November 25, 2013

The Jesse Tree

A very large black Family Bible sat on our coffee table all through my growing-up years. I remember looking through the gold leafed pages finding Bible verses I learned in Sunday School, looking at the ornate lettering and pictures, and studying the large maps in the back. But, nothing grabbed my attention more than the family tree in the front, mostly because it contained my name at the very top. My mother told me she carefully filled in the names of her newly combined family on the occasion of my birth. For every name, there was a story, and I would listen in rapt attention. To me, that family tree was a magical window to the past.

Thousands of years ago, when the stories of the Old Testament were first told, families were pictured as limbs branching out from a single trunk. “A shoot will spring from the stock of Jesse, and from his roots a bud will blossom,” said the prophet Isaiah. It is this verse which gave rise to the tradition of the Jesse Tree. Jesse trees were the Bible story books of unlettered people. A priest could point to the figures or symbols and tell the stories of Old Testament kings, prophets, heroines, and warriors. And, the tree itself served to show how the New Testament grew out of the Old Testament; how, for Christians, the birth of Jesus was not just a beginning, but a completion. Jesus was the flowering of a tree planted long before by God’s own design.

To celebrate the Advent Season this year, we will pay homage to this ancient Celtic tradition by assembling a Jesse Tree of our own in the Worship Center every Sunday morning, beginning December 1. Each Sunday children will add ornaments to the tree decorated with illustrations representing various stories throughout the Bible leading up to Jesus’ birth. Paper materials will be provided for families to have a Jesse Tree of their own at home. These packets will be available at a table across from the north Information Center beginning Sunday, November 25. For those who are looking for a unique Jesse Tree, or want a more hands-on experience in creating one, here are some other ways to make a Jesse Tree:

*Choose a tree branch without leaves, two to three feet high, that has a main branch with lots of smaller branches attached to it. Place the branch in a bucket of dirt or rocks.

*Make a mobile using a tree branch. Use fishing line to hang the branch from the ceiling. You'll need to make sure the symbols are balanced when you hang them on the branch so that the branch will remain level.

*Create a banner with heavy material and use fabric scraps to create your symbols. Another alternative is to cut a tree with branches from brown felt. Glue it to a piece of green felt, 24" x 36". Attach Velcro to the backs of the ornaments for attaching to the felt Jesse Tree.

*Discard your tinsel and make a garland with your Jesse Tree symbols. String some satin cord across your mantelpiece, bookcase or cupboard. Add your symbols one by one with clips or ribbon.

*Fanfold Paper Banner - create a long cardboard fanfold. Fold so that you have one “fan-fold face” for each symbol. Use decorative papers to create your symbols or use the templates attached.

*Add ornaments to your regular Christmas tree or purchase a small tabletop tree to hold only your Jesse Tree ornaments.

*Make a wooden Jesse Tree ornament stand.

In preparation for the Jesse Tree over the next six days, we will read various genealogies in the Bible tracing the origins of Christ. With renewed eyes, let us peer through the window to the past and look upon each name as the story of our spiritual heritage – our roots – our salvation – our hope – our future.

Genealogy of Christ through Joseph, Part 1 - Matthew 1:1-11

The first chapter of Matthew acts as the perfect bridge between the Old and New Testaments. The theme of the Old Testament is given in Genesis 5:1: “This book is the book of the generations of Adam.” The proceeding verses read like a gloomy obituary, with the repeated phrase “and he died” marking the end of each life with a grim note of finality. But notice Matthew’s list, if you can recall the King James Version, it is all about the “begats” – births in our language today. Each birth brought man closer and closer to the Messiah who was both fully man and fully God.

During Jesus’ time, the ability to trace one’s familial heritage was of great importance. In N. T. Wright’s commentary on Matthew, he writes:

“For many cultures ancient and modern, and certainly in the Jewish world of Matthew’s day, this genealogy was the equivalent of a roll of drums, a fanfare of trumpets, and a town crier calling for attention . . . Like a great procession coming down a city street, we watch the figures at the front, and the ones in the middle, but all eyes are waiting for the one who comes in the position of greatest honor, right at the end.”