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Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Jesse Tree

I am learning of some pretty cool Christmas traditions as I do this exploration into what each of our various cultures have contributed to the celebration of Christmas worldwide. Another such cool tradition is this idea of a Jesse Tree.  If you haven't heard of it until today, don't be surprised, as it is not as common in the U.S. as it might be in some of the European countries, but it is a pretty old tradition.  You might have observed a Jesse Tree in some stained-glass windows of older church architecture, but not even known what you were observing.  It seems the Jesse Tree is used to tell the story of the lineage of Jesus, linking him back to Jesse, the father of King David.  Jesse is at the base and as the branches move upward, the various "ornaments" tell a story of the various members of the line of David to the coming of the Christ child (symbolized at the top with the infant in Mary's arms).  As the years have passed, those who continue with this tradition have incorporated it into their Christmas celebration much in the same way we might use an Advent calendar or something of that nature.  In some of the more elaborate of these trees, the story from creation to the birth of Jesus is illustrated in symbols placed on the branches of the tree.  It essentially becomes a "walk through scripture" as each of the stories is told which relate to the particular ornament or symbol placed on the branches.

“Behold, the days come,” saith the Lord, “that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch; and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In His days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is His name whereby He shall be called: The Lord Our Righteousness." (Jeremiah 23:5-6 KJ21)

And there shall come forth a Rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him—the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord and shall make Him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord; and He shall not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of His ears. But with righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth; and He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked.  (Isaiah 11:1-4 KJ21)

The ornaments are hung on the tree one at a time, as each day's story is told.  If you use this from the first of December forward, the tree actually would have 25 decorations on it at the end.  In essence, as each ornament is added to the tree, a short exploration into scripture accompanies and the story of the lineage and prophesies of Jesus begin to emerge.  Starting with Creation and moving forward, a series of Bible stories begin to tie together what has come to be known as the "story of Christmas".  I kind of like this version of an "Advent Calendar" as it actually lends some anticipation of what story might come next.  The ornaments are often hand created, so the tree takes on a different feel based on who makes the ornaments.  You can engage your young ones and grandchildren in this process, having them even tell the story of their particular "ornament".

It is important to remember the real story being told.  The Israelites were chosen by God to be his people.  They were to become a great nation, all under the leadership of God himself. In the period of time from the promise given to Abraham till the time of their demands to have a king to rule their kingdom just like the other nations had, Israel struggled with obedience to God.  Even after David's coming into his role as King of Israel, although they did come closer to God under David's reign, they continued to rebel and seek after the customs and ways of worship in the pagan nations around them.  In time, they had rebelled so significantly by choosing their own way over God's that they were actually taken into exile by invading armies.

In the course of time, God sent prophets, one after another, and sometimes a couple at a time, to encourage them to consider their heart condition and return to God.  Their continual denial of their need to repent brought even more severe servitude to invading armies and destruction of a way of life they had come to enjoy.  In time, their lack of obedience landed them where all of us find ourselves at one time or another - in servitude to the very thing we thought was going to fulfill all our "hopes and expectations", but which proved only to enslave us and hold us in bondage.  Sin has a way of enticing us, but once it gets hold through our compromises, even as slight as they may be, it is a tough thing to "wiggle free" from!  

Because we all have a free-will, God will not interfere with our "right to choose".  He continues in his love and faithfulness to reach out to us through the messages he sends, but he will not violate our free-will.  Such was the case with Israel - they continued to choose their own desires as superior to any desire God had for them.  In so doing, there were consequences to their choices - as there are to ours.  The story doesn't end there, though. As was the case with Israel, God never gives up on his people!  He still reaches out to us, despite our selfish desires and sinful ways.  He continues to extend grace - sending messages by whatever means we might hear them!

This is the story of the Jesse tree - not just the lineage of Christ - but the continual struggle of God's people to choose wisely and to enter into the redemption he has for us through Christ's blood.  If we used this little tree to tell our story, it might look a little like the story of Jesse and all of Israel!  We'd see a trail of bad choices, but an even bigger trail of God's graces along the way!  Just sayin!