The Jesse Tree, the Israelites, and Me… a Christmas Transformed

The Jesse Tree, the Israelites, and Me… a Christmas Transformed

At the first hint of fall in the air and the calling of the blue jays telling me it’s coming, excitement begins to bubble inside of me. It’s almost time for Jesse Tree… time for the season of quiet (or not always so quiet) waiting.

In hot and humid Papua, Indonesia one year I picked up a Jesse Tree book from another expat family’s yard sale. I had never heard of the Jesse Tree and so I read with curiosity and a small searching for a way to make Christmas feel like Christmas two degrees below the equator. I had no idea that it would transform Christmas for our family.

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This week I will go on a small hunt into the fencerow near our backyard for a dry branch we can use for our Jesse Tree, because for me, it starts with that stump, that seemingly dead stump from which life sprang up. It’s that symbol of the family tree that was Jesus’ and as Ann Voskamp says, “If you don’t come to Christmas through Christ’s family tree and you come into the Christmas story just at the Christmas ­tree —​- it’s hard then to understand the meaning of His coming.” 

I want to understand. I want to know. I want to feel it. I want Christmas to be real for my family. And I want them to know it and feel it for themselves. Way down deep. Because when we get our eyes on Him, Christmas feels like Christmas no matter the weather!

Along the way, life has grown challenging in ways far more serious than equatorial heat and humidity and I have needed to learn to intentionally focus my cloudy eyes and center my stubborn heart. One year, the Jesse Tree asked me “Is Jesus enough?” “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,…” (Habakkuk 3:17) What if then… is Jesus enough?

You see my heart is not unlike the stubborn hearts of the Israelites. They saw God part the Red Sea and rescue them from disaster. They saw God’s presence with them by day and by night in the pillar of cloud and fire. They saw His loving care over them, yet they were not satisfied. It wasn’t enough. And soon they forgot. And then they remembered and then forgot again.

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Yep. That’s me. I am grateful that our God is patient. He was even patient then with those stubborn Israelites and because of the Jesse Tree I understand that Jesus’ own family tree was full of people not so much different than me and my family. “The coming of Christ was right through families of messed up monarchs and battling brothers, through affairs and adultery and more than a feud or two, through skeletons in closets and cheaters at tables.” Ann Voskamp

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I am learning and seeing and each year that we put up our Jesse Tree and spend time talking and laughing and learning each night of the week, I see myself more clearly as dearly loved and part of an amazing plan that God has had right from the beginning of time! I desperately want that for my children as well.

It’s then, right there at the Jesse Tree that quiet happens. It happens in our hearts because we know that the only real reason for Christmas is Jesus and no amount of heat and humidity, and no lack of figurative grapes, olives, sheep, or cattle will change the fact that He himself is the Gift and He is enough.

Yes, I’m human. Honestly, my stubborn Israelite-like heart still sometimes feels sad that our Christmas tree isn’t piled high underneath with gifts. But I also recognize and am so grateful that when my littlest one receives one gift… cute boots that she wanted so badly… she is so excited and satisfied and I see fruit of our family heart and eye-focusing.

God always keeps His promises and one I hold close to my heart is this one which He made to those same stubborn Israelites, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

I am directed back to the other tree, the dead branch with the promise of life. Each night of Advent, my family will pause, the noise of Christmas will still, and we will wait together, reliving and re-celebrating the coming of God With Us as a tiny baby, God’s greatest gift. Those bubbles are rising in my heart… it’s almost time!

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Do you want to know more about the Jesse Tree? Want to try it for your own family? I would love to share more with you about the details of our family’s Advent celebration.

Here are a few resources to start with:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.  Habakkuk 3:17-18

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