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The Jesse Tree: An Advent Tradition

The Jesse Tree is a wonderfully simple way for individuals or families to take a few minutes each day to prepare for the celebration of Christmas.
The Jesse tree, named after the father of King David, is an Advent tradition dating back to the 11th century that depicted the family tree of Jesus. It served as a way for people to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth by remembering those who came before him. Today, the Jesse Tree allows the faithful to put the story of Jesus’ birth in the larger context of the Christian story – starting with Creation and moving through the major biblical events leading up to the Nativity. It is, ultimately, a story of God’s love.
Follow #JesseTreeVT on the Diocese of Burlington Instagram account (@DioBurlington) and download the attached reflections and ornament printables to decorate a Jesse Tree in your own home! On each day of Advent, read the scripture passage and ponder the short reflection assigned to that day, below. Cut out the matching ornament and hang it on your Jesse Tree or paste it on a Jesse Tree image posted somewhere in your home. Happy Advent!
November 27: DOVE; CREATION
Read: Isaiah 11:1
God created the world to be in harmony. God looked at what he created each day and saw that it was good and that the human being created was very good. This harmony was disrupted and is to be restored by Jesse’s descendant, Jesus. In Jesus, the prophesy of Isaiah comes to light: “The world shall live with the lamb; the leopard shall lie down with the kid…and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).

November 28: APPLE; ADAM AND EVE
Read: Genesis 3:6-7
The harmony God intends in the creation of the world is disrupted by the disobedience of Adam and Eve, represented by an apple. A sign that this harmony was broken was that Adam and Eve were afraid of God – who walked in the garden among his creation – and they hid themselves. This broken harmony causes division between people, God, and creation. Jesus overcomes this division and bridges the divide between heaven and earth.

November 29: ARK; NOAH
Read: Genesis 8:15-17
The ark – recalling the story of Noah and the Flood – symbolizes that God’s love overcomes our divisions and our sinfulness. Even though we sin and turn away from God, God always loves us and calls us back into relationship, promising never to “curse the ground because of humankind” (Gen 8:21). But God’s love is even greater than that; his love doesn’t simply save us from destruction, but gives us new life through Jesus.
Read: Genesis 15:5-6
On a moonless, cloudless winter night, go outside and try counting the stars. Imagine then, how childless Abraham felt when the Lord promised him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. God later promises the land to Abraham’s descendants. Creation itself becomes a sign of God’s promise. Through these promises and miracles, God continues to move us toward restoring the harmony lost in original sin, rebuilding our relationships with each other, God, and the world. This restoration finds its fulfillment in Jesus.
December 1: RAM; ISAAC
Read: Genesis 22:11-12
Today’s symbol of the ram recalls Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. As we prepare to celebrate with joy Jesus’ birth, we pause to reflect on the deep angst Abraham must have felt and recall another person afflicted with deep sorrow in her life – Mary, the mother of Jesus. The prophet Simeon’s words to her, “a sword will pierce your own soul,” foreshadowed her time at the foot of the Cross. This work of redemption is not without sacrifice.
December 2: LADDER; JACOB
Read: Genesis 28:12-15
A continuation of the story of God’s promises, we see the symbol of the ladder to heaven – a physical connection to the divine. In the person of Jesus, God-with-us, humanity and divinity meet, and the gap between heaven and earth doesn’t seem so large anymore. The promises God made to Abraham and Isaac are made complete in Jesus.
Read: Genesis 41:47-49
Today, we turn to Joseph, the son of Jacob. Joseph, in a terrible act of sibling rivalry at its worst, is thrown out of his family by his brothers. But, God has different plans for him. He finds favor with the Pharaoh of Egypt and eventually lands himself a pretty good position in the Egyptian government. Joseph uses this authority wisely, saving the people of Egypt (and neighboring areas) from famine. May the story of Joseph help us recall the humble beginning of Jesus, and what the reign of God means: “he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Lk. 1:52-53).
Read: Exodus 3:2-10
God speaks to Moses and commands him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into their promised land. A bush on fire but not consumed must have been an awesome sight to Moses, a sign that this was holy ground. Perhaps the burning bush can also be a symbol of God’s love for us – love that envelopes and purifies, but does not destroy. Our Advent and Christmas celebrations are indeed a celebration of God’s love for us – in the person of Jesus.
Read: Exodus 12:11
The lamb, an early symbol for Christ, is a reminder of the first Passover, when God commanded Aaron and Moses to sacrifice a lamb for the Passover. This event signaled the beginning of the Passover for the Israelites – where they fled from slavery in Egypt and into the land promised them. Jesus is our Lamb – bringing us from death into new life, and leading us – if we choose to follow – to the promised land of heaven.
Read: Exodus 20:22-23
Sometimes, it seems that being Christian is about following rules – the commandments being the basic, foundational rules to live by. But our faith is about following a person – Christ – who “is the fulfilment of the law for the justification of everyone who has faith” (Rom. 10:4). In the end, we cannot depend on ourselves to bring back harmony to creation; we will always fall short if left to our own ways. But the gift of Jesus is that he fulfills the law and thus restores harmony. This Advent, reaffirm your commitment to follow Jesus.
Read: Joshua 6:20
The trumpet recalls Moses’s assistant Joshua taking the city of Jericho – where the walls came tumbling down (some may remember the song – “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho”). God promised the land to the Israelites, and Jericho’s destruction is symbolic that the old ways of the society in Jericho were being replaced by the Israelites. Likewise, in Jesus, the old order of sin and death gives way to new life.
Read: Judges 7:20-21
Moving along Jesus’ family tree through the Old Testament, a jar recounts the story of Gideon found in Judges 7. Things were looking pretty bad for the Israelites; they had turned away from God, and armies would constantly fight against them. But then came Gideon; a man of faith. He had faith in God that despite his small army, only 300, he would conquer the Midian army of over 100,000. The jars were used to surprise the Midian army that Gideon fought against; each of his soldiers carried a jar hiding a torch, and upon breaking the jars revealing the flames and sounding the trumpets, the Midian army fled in fear. Through faith, Gideon subdued kingdoms and armies. Through his faith, God worked miracles, and the Israelites, once again, came to believe in the power of God.
Today, we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary – that Mary was conceived without original sin so that she could be the new ark – the bearer – of God in the child Jesus. Her faith demonstrates the power and the miracles of God, and her faith allows her to proclaim “behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38). Mary’s faith is a model for us. How can your faith be a witness to the power of God in your life?
December 9: CROWN; SAMUEL
Read: 1 Samuel 3:19
Samuel was the last of the judges of Israel, and he appointed the first King of Israel, Saul. Samuel was called by God at a young age to be a prophet. Like the others who came before him, Samuel’s faith in God deepened, and he always worked to restore the relationship between God and the Israelites, who had a tendency of straying from God. In this story, we see an earthly kingdom formed, a kingdom consistently called to be in relationship with the Lord. Through his birth, Jesus brings to us the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom already here, but not fully present. How does your faith in God help bring the Kingdom of God into the world?
Read: 1 Samuel 16:11-13
David, before he was anointed king of Israel, was a young shepherd. God promises King David that his kingdom will last forever and that God will not take his steadfast love from him. Even though later in life David is unfaithful to God, God does not abandon this kingdom. God’s love endures forever and even in the midst of unfaithfulness—where our human thoughts encourage us to separate and divide—God draws ever closer to us in the person of Jesus.
Read: 1 Kings 18:36-39
The prophet Elijah calls the people to turn away from false worship. He builds a stone altar to the Lord and calls down on God to accept the offering on it, which God accepts by setting the offering on fire. Again, God’s power is demonstrated. As we move closer to Christmas, let us recognize and be grateful of God’s very power in Jesus – the power to conquer death and give life.
Read: 2 Kings 19:34-35
King Hezekiah was faithful to God, unlike his father King Ahaz, who disobeyed God. God saw Hezekiah’s faith and protected his people in battle. The empty tent represents an empty battlefield; King Hezekiah’s enemies fled the battlefield. As you can see in the history of the judges and kings of Israel, faith is fragile. For common, everyday people and for kings alike, it gives way too easily to temptation. Faith needs to be nurtured and protected. How are you taking this Advent Season to nurture your faith in God?
Read: Isaiah 9:1
Isaiah’s prophesies foretell of the coming of the Messiah, but Isaiah was hesitant about proclaiming the Word of God, fearing that he was not capable of giving prophecy. Isaiah’s mouth is touched with a burning ember – burning away, in a sense, this hesitancy, and he proclaims the coming Messiah. His prophecies built the hope of those who heard him as they were living in exile from their homeland. Those people heard the words of Isaiah: “the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in a land of gloom, a light has shone” (Isaiah 9:1). As Christians, we have heard and seen that light in Jesus, yet our world is still filled with darkness and gloom. How can we be a people bringing the message of Jesus – the message of hope – to those areas of darkness and gloom?
December 14: TEARS; JEREMIAH
Read: Jeremiah 8:23
The prophet Jeremiah weeps at the sinfulness of the people. He speaks out against the hypocrisy in worship: “Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘this is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place” (Jer. 7:3-7).
This season, we often think of – pray for – peace. Today, am I a peaceful person? That is, am I one who brings peace to all whom I encounter? Do I allow others, especially those otherwise marginalized by society, to experience peace? Or am I an obstacle to their peace?
Read: Habakkuk 2:1
Advent is a time for waiting – waiting not only to celebrate God-with-us in Jesus’ birth at Christmas, but waiting for Christ’s coming at the end of time, and waiting for God to be in our midst today. The prophet Habakkuk waited. He watched as around him, the land and his people were consumed by violence and death. “O, Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen,” he pleads (Hab. 1:2). The symbol of the watchtower reminds us that in this Advent Season – although we may not experience our time of waiting as intensely as Habakkuk – we are still waiting. But we shouldn’t wait without faith and hope. Habakkuk had faith and hope, for he ends his prophecy with “yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength, he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights” (Hab. 3:18-19). Let this be a season where we wait in joyful hope.
December 16: WALL; NEHEMIAH
Read: Nehemiah 1:8-9
Nehemiah was a governor of Judah after the Persians allowed the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem after they were exiled during the Babylonian Captivity. Nehemiah rebuilt the wall surrounding Jerusalem after it was destroyed by the Babylonians. Before Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem and became governor of a people who were in the process of rebuilding the city, he lived a pretty comfortable life as a high-ranking official in the Persian Court. Nehemiah left the comforts of the Persian royal court to help the people of Jerusalem rebuild their city. As governor, he was among the people of Jerusalem. God, too, chooses to be among his people in the person of Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Does this remind you of the original creation, as God intended it? God walked in the Garden with Adam and Eve. Our God – infinitely beyond us – chooses to draw close to us.
Read: Luke 3:16
The shell is a traditional symbol of our baptism. We are reminded of John the Baptist preaching about the coming of Jesus, and the baptism which Jesus offers to all: “one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire” (Lk. 3:16). Baptism is our own entryway into the incredible work of salvation. Today, give thanks for your baptism, and renew your baptismal commitment to reject sin and live in the freedom of God’s children!
December 18: WHITE LILY; MARY
Read: Luke 1:30-33
Mary’s faith is a model for all of us. Throughout our Advent journey with the Jesse tree, we have seen many examples of prophets and kings calling their people to repentance after they’ve turned away from God. In Mary, we see a steadfast, consistent faith. Not that that faith didn’t encounter questions; Mary had questions. But in the midst of those questions, she kept faith. Just as she bore Emmanuel – Jesus – into the world, may our faith be steadfast, and may all we do be enlightened and informed by our faith, so that we can make God known and loved through the world.
Read: Luke 1:41-42
When Mary greets her sister Elizabeth, Elizabeth greets her with the greeting we pray every time we say the Hail Mary. Elizabeth, too, foreshadows the coming of the Savior: “Why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” (Lk. 1:43). There is great joy in this encounter; the coming of the Lord is near!
Read: Luke 1:63
Zechariah is the father of John the Baptist. When asked about the name for his child, Zechariah, who was unable to speak, asked for a tablet on which he wrote, “His name is John” (Lk. 1:63). Immediately, Zechariah was able to speak and began to praise God: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant” (Lk 1:68-72).
We are nearing the end of our Jesse Tree. Just as Zechariah recounted all the good things God has done in the past in his blessing (Lk. 1:68-79), so too do we by reflecting on the ornaments of this tree. Praised be God!
December 21: HAMMER; JOSEPH
Read: Matthew 1:20-22
The first chapter of Matthew traces the lineage of Jesus through Joseph back to King David (and even prior). Joseph was a carpenter, symbolized by today’s ornament. Although not a king, Joseph still had faith and trust in God, even in the midst of uncertainty. God chooses kings, prophets, and carpenters to bring about the heavenly Kingdom. How is God calling you to use your faith to bring about the Heavenly Kingdom?
December 22: CANDLE; MAGI
Read: Matthew 2:2
The Magi are strangers from the East and have come to pay this child – the King of the Jews – homage. But why? The Magi are not Jewish; the King of the Jews isn’t their king. Surely they must know that something is special about this child! Not much is said about the Magi in Scripture. After visiting with Jesus, they are warned in a dream not to go back to Herod to report the child’s location. Scripture doesn’t tell us where they went? Perhaps they went back to their homeland and spoke of what they saw. Perhaps they began to spread the Good News without even fully realizing who this child was – a light for the whole world.
Our wait to celebrate Jesus’ Nativity is almost over. We’ve been waiting with joyful hope for the coming of the Savior. How will you spread the Good News of God’s Word in the days and weeks ahead?
December 23: MANGER; JESUS
Read: Luke 2:10-12
“The time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk. 1:6-7). Jesus is born in humble surroundings, surrounded by humble people. He is not born in a palace surrounded by royalty and the best doctors money can afford. Shepherds – those who work on the land among animals – come on the scene. Imagine strangers – men who smell of the sheep they tended, nevermind what they look like – coming into a hospital delivery room today. Police would be called!
The Nativity story is surrounded by humility – simple beginnings. The same is true for our life of faith. We don’t need to be perfect in order to have faith. Our lives can be – and are – often times messy, unorganized, cluttered. Jesus enters into that messiness. All that’s needed is an open heart.
But this doesn’t mean there is not work involved. Although Jesus was born in humble settings, Mary and Joseph did all they could to nurture…educate…raise…protect their child. Sure, he was God, but he was still their child. And so it is with us – God finds a way in, but we must constantly nurture our relationship with God. Rejoice that God comes to you no matter how messy or clean your life is. How do you work to deepen your relationship with God?
December 24: CHI-RHO; CHRIST
Read: John 1:34
Today’s symbol is a monogram of the first two letters of the word Christos – or Christ. John tells us that Christ is the light of the world. And that light gives us hope: “but to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or the will of man, but of God…from his fullness, we have all received grace upon grace” (Jn. 1:12, 16).
Great news indeed! Merry Christmas!

Josh Perry, Director of Worship for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington
Last modified onMonday, 05 December 2016 14:59
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