“But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.”
This is a busy time of year. I know it. You know it. But for Catholics, it’s also a time of year when we’re supposed to stop, take a breath, and wait with hope for our Savior. It’s a time of waiting and anticipation, not for the presents under the tree or the jolly old elf who comes down the chimney, but for the Babe in the Manger Who is the King of kings. At the same time, we’re supposed to be preparing for the coming of our King. This preparation isn’t just for Christmas and the Babe in the Manger, but for the Second Coming of our Lord. We’re supposed to be conforming our lives to God’s will and plan, reflecting on His love for us: the love that is so great that He became a human being so that He might show us how to love perfectly.
So Advent is very much about being in a place in time when we hold our breath as we wait for the Big Event. But it’s hard to do in a culture where we now skip over Thanksgiving and go straight to Consumerism Christmas. For a long time, I’ve fought against this in my family by keeping a Jesse Tree during Advent.
The Gospel of Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus, tracing his lineage from Abraham to David to the exile to Jesus, naming 14 generations in each portion of the family. The Jesse Tree (called so because of the above verse from Isaiah), was originally a visual way to trace the lineage of Jesus through the Old Testament while remembering God’s covenant with humanity. (This was done in stained glass, illuminations, and carvings.) Since the fall of our First Parents, Adam and Eve, God has kept a covenant with us, beginning with only Adam and Eve, and eventually bringing the entire world into His family. The Old Testament, far from being a bunch of stories about God being angry with people, is really a series of stories to show us that time and again, His love for us drives His plan to save mankind from sin.
Increasingly, our society rushes to Christmas. Every year, we decry how much earlier Christmas has come to stores: earlier and earlier we see elves and trees and lights and Christmas gift baskets filling the shelves at our local stores. American culture has never been very good at keeping Advent in the past. This could be our strong roots in Protestantism, but as far as I can remember, we begin celebrating Christmas immediately after Thanksgiving, as if there is no season between the two. But this year, I saw Christmas decorations and signs up on November 1! We seem to have skipped right over Thanksgiving this year and gone straight to Christmas season. Doing readings for the Jesse Tree throughout Advent is a way to help us keep Advent as a season. I began the tradition in my own family when my children were very young in order to help my girls to really see Advent as a time of waiting for Jesus to come.
We wait for Jesus to come in the manger, to be sure. I’ll set up my Christmas manger scene at the beginning of Advent and wait to place the Christ Child in His manger after Midnight Mass. But we also should be preparing our hearts for Christ the King, whom we just celebrated last Sunday, to come again at the end of time. And, of course, we should always work to prepare our hearts daily — all year long — for Christ to come to our hearts and fill us with His love.
I searched online and found a list of readings that take us through the Old Testament on a journey. This journey is one that, like the Wise Men of Luke’s Gospel, leads us to contemplate the face of Jesus. But rather than being a physical one, we can take it as a spiritual journey that leads us from Creation and our First Parents’ sin throughout the Old Testament as God leads His people closer to Himself. As God leads the Chosen People, He helps them (and the rest of the world) get ready for when He Himself will come among them to show them definitively how much He loves them.
When I started to read the Old Testament in this light, it changed the way I saw it. When I realized that God loves us all so much that He became a tiny, helpless baby and grew up in this cold and broken world, it pretty much blew my mind. He came to show us His love. He came to show us how to love!
As we go through the Jesse Tree readings throughout Lent, remember that each story we read is another lesson in love. Each story we read is a part of God’s love letter to the world. It’s God’s love letter to you. He loves you, and if you were the only person in the world, He would have come to save you. So as you read these readings each evening, remember that it’s the story of how much God loves you, and how He wants to help you prepare for Him to come to you.
If you’d like to follow along, I’ll be posting the readings each day beginning December 1. I have more information on ornaments and other ideas on my Jesse Tree page, but if all you decide to do this year is to read the Scriptures throughout Advent, you can do that! By subscribing to my blog, you’ll be able to get the daily posts in your email each day. (There’s a button on the right side of this screen for that.) You can also subscribe to my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter for daily posts. If I can figure a way to do daily Jesse Tree things on Snapchat, I’ll do it! (There’s my code if you want to follow there.)
My goal here is to make it easy for you to do this, even on the fly. Help keep Advent, and let’s all take the Jesse Tree journey together!