Jesse Tree

Jesse Tree

Jesse Tree

The Jesse Tree is tool for preparation for Christmas. The name comes from Jesse of Bethlehem, King David’s father, and the quote from Isaiah 11:1, “… a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,” which foretells the coming of the Messiah. The beginning of Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels mentions both Jesse and David in the genealogy of Jesus.

The Jesse tree begins with bare branches onto which a symbolic ornament is added daily until Christmas. (Some, myself included, continue adding ornaments throughout the Octave of Christmas. To that end I have the extras included here.) They are bare because the Israelite people were, and we are, waiting for the Messiah, but in our (Christians) case it is His return. Our naked hunger for the coming of Christ is open for all to see. (Remember, Advent is more about longing and preparing for the second coming than it is about the first coming of Jesus.) Daily throughout Advent a symbolic ornament is added to the bare branches of the Jesse Tree until Christmas.  Each day is an opportunity to spend time with scripture as you or you and your family ready yourselves for the feast day. The number of symbols varies from year to year depending on the starting date, because the number of days in Advent varies from year to year. Advent always starts on the Sunday nearest to the Feast of St. Andrew (November 30).

The Jesse Tree traces the family tree of Jesus and the story of salvation history. It was already being used by at least the 11th century and depicted on church windows as early as the 13th century.

The symbols fall roughly into three groups:

1) The major Hebrew Testament patriarchs and figures from their histories, recounting the creation of the earth, the making of a great people, the slavery in Egypt and the Exodus, and how the Israelite nation began to prosper and then turn away from God.

2) The prophets who are the conscience of the Israelite people. Telling—no, haranguing—them to return to God, the true God, or suffer the consequences. These speakers of the uncomfortable truth foretell of a Messiah who will deliver the people from the fate of their disloyalty: the sacking of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile.

3) The family of Jesus and the story of His birth: As mentioned, Jesse and David appear in both Luke’s and Matthew’s genealogies, but beyond that there is little agreement. So here you can take some creative license (as the Evangelists have taken!). There are many compelling stories hidden in the long lists of names. Paying attention to Matthew’s genealogy a bit, you will find “fallen” women. These women are often great role models, because they are strong and God-fearing and often put God’s law above human customs and traditions. Their stories also remind us that God’s plan does not always follow a straight path, nor does God always choose the obvious people. Take heart in these stories! Any one of us can do great things in God’s plan. Anyway, read the genealogies, look up some of the names and add them to your tree. I have selected a few of my favorites as examples.

Be creative with your symbols, but remember that this is a teaching tool, and a way to bring the story of salvation alive in your family’s preparation for Christmas, or as an aid to personal meditation on how God worked through history and how God is working in your life now. The main thing is the story, not the beauty of the symbols (cotton ball sheep is completely acceptable!). Encourage your children to help, and be sure to tell the story!!

Jesse Tree: The Symbols of Advent 2020

Topic                               Symbol                                  Bible Reference

1) Creation                        Earth                                      Gen 1:1-4a

2) Adam & Eve                 Apple                                     Gen 3:15 (first promise)

3) Noah                             Ark                                         Gen 9:8-15 (covenant)

4) Abraham and Sarah       Field of Stars                         Gen 15: 4-5, 17: 6-7, 18:1, 9-10a (new


5) Isaac                              Wood                                     Gen 22: 2-8 (trust)

6) Jacob                             Ladder                                    Gen 28:12-15 (I am with you)

7) Judah                            Lion                                       Gen 49:8-10 (Not the first born

                                                                                         nor the most famous.  God works

                                                                                         as He sees fit

8) Joseph                           Coat                                       Gen 37:3-4, 20, 24, 28 41:25, 29-30a, 57

                                                                                         (good from evil)

9) Passover & Exodus      Lamb                                      Ex 12:21-23 (lamb = Jesus)

10) Moses                         Tablets of the Law                  Ex 31:18 (Spoke to God)

11) Joshua                         Ram’s Horn                           Joshua 6:2-5 (Trust)


12) Ruth                            Heart                                      Ruth 1:16-18 (Fidelity)

13) Hannah                       Goblet of Wine                      1 Sam 1:10-18, 20 (Belief)

14) Samuel                        An Ear                                    1 Sam 3:4-10 (Listen)

15) David                          Shepherd                                1 Sam 16:1, 12-13 (Flawed man)

16) Bathsheba                  A Bathtub                                2 Sam 11: 2- 4a; 14-17; 26- 27

                                                                                          (God’s plan)

17) Elijah                           Fire                                        Malachi 13:23-24a (Baptist)

18) Jeremiah                      A map                                    Jeremiah 31:8-9,14 (Return from Exile)

19) Isaiah                          Candle                                    Is 9:1-6 (Promise of Messiah)

20) Daniel                         Throne/Crown                        Dan 7:13-14 (Son of Man)

21) Bethlehem                   Picture of the City                  Micah 5:1-2 (Prophecy)

22.) Zechariah                   Pen and paper                        Luke 1: 8, 11-13, 18-20 (Bridge between

                                                                                         Old and New Testaments)

23 Elizabeth                       Mother & Child                     Luke 1:24-25, 44-45 (Joy)

24) John the Baptizer        Shell                                       Luke 3: 2-6 (New Elijah)

25) Joseph                         Carpenter’s tools                    Matt 1: 19-24

26) Mary                           Lily                                        Luke 1:26-28, 31-34

27) Jesus                           Star                                        Luke 2:1-18

Angels                               Angel                                     Matt 1:20; Luke 1:13, Luke 1:26-32,

                                                                                         2:8-10 (messengers of God)

Shepherds                         Shepherds                              Luke 2:15-16

Star                                    Star                                        Matt 2:1-2

Magi                                  Gifts/Magi                             Matt 2:10-11 (worship)

Doves                                Doves                                     Luke 2:22-32. 36-38

Innocents                           Baby boys                              Matt 2:16

Holy Family                      Your Family (mirror)             Luke 2: 43, 48 -52

Blessing for Jesse Tree

Dear Lord God, as we begin our preparation to celebrate the birth of your Son, Jesus our Savior, bless this tree. Bless these ornaments, too. May this journey through salvation history open our hearts to joyfully watch for and fully receive the best Christmas gift of all—Jesus Christ in whose name we make this prayer.  Amen

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