The Jesse Tree

While most people are familiar with the evergreen wreath as a symbol of Advent, another most appropriate visual image for the season is that of the Jesse tree.
The Jesse tree is a symbolic representation of those who, in the course of salvation history, helped prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. Jesse was the grandson of Boaz and father of King David and thus an ancestor of Jesus. He demonstrates the descent of Jesus, the Messiah, from the Royal house of David as foretold by the prophet Isaiah: “A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse, a branch grows out of his roots, a spirit of wisdom and insight, a spirit of counsel and power, and the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.” (Is. 11:1-2).
The Jesse tree is like a family tree through which the stories of those who preceded Christ are remembered. During the weeks of Advent, symbols are placed on a small evergreen tree or leafless branch, beginning at the bottom with Adam and Eve and moving upward to the topmost symbol, the Chiro representing Christ. As each symbol is hung on the tree, we remember the person it represents and their place in Jesus’ story, which is also our story.
The symbols used are based on scripture:Adam and Eve: a garden. Genesis 2:8,9,15-23. The garden of paradise is their home.Noah: a rainbow. Genesis 8:6-12, 9:12-16. This is the promise made by God to his people.Abraham and Sarah: stars. Genesis 15:1-6. Abraham was promised descendants as numerous as the stars.Isaac: a bundle of wood. Genesis 22:1-18.Joseph: a coat of many colours. Genesis 37:2-36.Miriam: timbrel (tambourine). Exodus 15:20-21.Moses: the tablets of the law. Exodus 19, 20:1-21.Ruth: a sheaf of corn. Ruth 2:1-7.David: a harp. 1 Samuel 17:40-52, 18:10-15.John the Baptist: a figure wearing skins and eating locusts and honey. Matthew 3:1-5, 11:7-15.Joseph: carpenter’s tools. Matthew 1:18-25.Mary: a lily. Luke 1:26-38. The lily is white symbolising purity or fairness.
Other symbols include the Creation (a sun), the Fall (an apple), Hagar (a well), Jacob (a ladder), Judah (a Lion), Joshua (a trumpet), Deborah (a palm tree), Solomon and the temple (incense), Elijah (a pitcher), Hosea (wedding rings), Isaiah (a branch – for the Exile), Ezra (a scroll – for the Return), Jonah (in the whale).
Symbols that speak of what happened after the birth of Jesus can also be added. Decorated globes say that Christ came to save the whole world. Stars and doves tell of hope and of the special guide we have in the Holy Spirit. Hearts remind us of God’s love and the love God wants us to extend to others. Birds speak of the mustard seed of true faith. Bells ring out the good news. Laterns and candles say, “Jesus is the light of the world”.

Elizabeth Harrington