The Jesse Tree
Get into the spirit of Advent with your family with this guide to Jesus’ Family Tree.
Contemplating God’s Family & Ours
Children learn about love from being loved, and for most of us that love comes from our families. We develop our sense of identity, purpose, security and belonging largely from our families.
It’s no different in our faith family.
Just as we each have a family tree, a history of our ancestors linked by marriage and blood, so also does Jesus. In the Advent tradition of the Jesse tree we trace Jesus’ family history and learn about the love of God for us as revealed through real-life ancestors of Jesus.
A Jesse Tree is either a real tree or a representation of one, decorated with symbols which mark the journey from the creation of the world to the birth of Christ. The symbols represent the ancestral characters depicted in the Jewish scriptures and the gospels.
The prophet Isaiah said of the Messiah that, “a shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots”. (Isaiah 11:1, NRSV)
The ‘tree’ is a common symbol throughout scripture, most memorably featured in the fall of Adam and Eve. Jesus used images of trees, vines and branches to explain the power and life of God. Jesse was the father of King David.
Thus, in its most original form the Jesse tree illustrates Jesus’ human royal lineage, from King David down to Mary. It shows the fulfilment of God’s promise of a miracle to the childless Abraham and Sarah, that although both of them were nearing 100 years old, “kings of peoples shall come from her”. (Genesis 17: 16, NRSV).
Jesse Tree Origins
The depiction of Jesus’ ancestry as a tree or vine based on Isaiah 11:1 goes back to the Middle Ages. There is a famous example in a stained glass window at Chartres Cathedral in northern France, where the tree arises from the side of the sleeping Jesse.
The image inspired Christian artists everywhere and it is found in many mediums: mosaics, paintings, murals, tapestries, stone reliefs and carvings.
Today we are most likely to see the modern adaptation in our Jesse tree in homes, parishes and schools. It is usually not strictly limited to Jesus’ royal ancestry, but is a means to tell the story of God’s faithfulness over the thousands years of human history up to the quintessential moment of God’s grace and mercy – the birth of Jesus.
When we contemplate The Jesse Tree we realise ever more deeply the intimate relationship between God and our own humanity. It helps us to connect with the humanity of Jesus, who, like us, came from a family line that was in many ways imperfect.
Why have a Jesse Tree?
A Jesse tree is especially useful for helping children to enter into the spirit of Advent, a spirit of expectant, joyful longing for the God who loves and saves us. It is an engaging way to impart knowledge of our salvation history and the momentous place of Jesus’ birth within it.
Thus while the Jesse Tree is about the journey of the people of God, it also sheds light on our own life journey. It connects us more deeply to scripture, through which Christ never fails to reveal himself to us here and now.
How do I make a Jesse tree?
Last year in our parish we used a large piece of triangular wire, bought at a bargain shop as a free-standing Christmas card holder. Willow branches woven across it made it look tree-like. Each week the children pinned to it the symbols from that week’s reading and their own made-up prayer. Adult parishioners were also invited to add their prayers. It was a moving and memorable way to celebrate Advent. – Mary
The greatest meaning comes out of making your own Jesse tree. You can use a small living tree, or a bare stick and branches, a wall hanging, or a poster with cardboard cut-outs.
Jesse Tree Reflection
Roots are important parts of a tree. As people we need to know our roots, to help us to know who we are and the kinds of people we want to be. At this time of the year with parties and holidays coming up, we go from one thing to another without reflecting on who we are or why God is important to us. As we create our Jesse tree this Advent season, let us pause and look at the lives of our relatives in faith. They show us what is really important.
for dinner time, bedtime, or catechesis
may we, your people,
who look forward to the birthday of Christ experience the joy
of salvation and celebrate that feast with love
We ask this through Jesus Christ Our Lord,
All bible references drawn from the New Revised Standard Version.
This article featured in the November 2012 edition of the CathFamily e-Magazine.