Nothing says “Advent” for me like the Jesse Tree. For years now, I have talked through the story of salvation every December with my children using ornaments on an old cloth tree. But what is the Jesse Tree, exactly? Here’s how I have explained it to my kids (with a few bigger words because you’re not a kid):
Q. What do you do with a Jesse Tree?
A. Hang ornaments on it telling the story of salvation history.
Q. Why do we hang ornaments to tell the story instead of just telling the story?
A. The Jesse Tree is a mnemonic device; we easily remember a set of pictures arranged on a tree where we might have difficulty remembering a set of words on a page.
Q. Why is it called a Jesse Tree?
A. Because of the messianic prophecy in Is 11:1 about the “stump” of Jesse.
Q. But why is it called a “Jesse” Tree in particular?
A. Because Jesse was the father of David.
Q. Based on this prophecy, what is the Jesse “Tree”?
A. The Jesse Tree is Christ himself.
Q. Why then do we hang the ornaments on Christ?
A. Because the whole story of salvation history depends at every step on Christ. The word “depend” comes from the Latin word de-pendere, which means “to hang from.”
Q. In what way does the story of salvation history depend on Christ?
A. Each person or event represented by the ornaments foreshadows Christ and prepares for him. He is the model and the goal of each person and event.
Q. What does the word “Advent” mean?
A. “Coming,” namely the coming of Christ.
Q. How many “comings” of Christ are described in Luke and Acts?
A. Three comings: his birth and ministry, the descent of the Spirit on the Church, and his coming at the end of time as judge.
Q. Do we celebrate each of the three comings during Advent?
A. Yes. We remember Christ’s past birth, experience his present invisible coming into our hearts, and look forward to his future coming as judge.
St. Bernard: “In the first coming, he comes in the flesh and in weakness; in the second, he comes in spirit and in power; in the third, he comes in glory and in majesty; and the second coming is the means whereby we pass from the first to the third.”
Q. Is the whole story of Scripture summed up in the Advent season?
A. Yes. The three comings of Christ encompass the story of the New Testament, and the same three comings are the true form and goal of every story of the Old Testament.