It’s hard to believe, but Advent begins already at the end of the month! I love Advent as a season of reflection. Even though we might be busy preparing for Christmas, it’s worth taking a little time to reflect, pray, and worship the Christ who came, who comes, and who will come again. Imagine the world some two thousand years ago in the weeks before the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem. People were busy doing whatever it was that defined their lives at that moment. For some, it was struggling against hunger, fear, and desperation. For others, it was enjoying their wealth and ease. For yet others, it was simply dealing with the pressures of their lives. But for all, the weeks we call “Advent” were just days and nights lived in darkness.
And indeed, it is a dark world. God had created the world to live in union with Him. He had breathed life into the father of our race, Adam, a creature of dust. He had formed Eve from the side of Adam and had joined the two together and to Himself. How bright the world must have been as Eden lived in harmony with the Creator.
But darkness came. Those created and loved by God rebelled against Him, bringing a darkness that permeated all creation. Death had entered through sin, and as the children of Adam filled the world, they took with them the darkness of that dreadful day in Eden when sin and death entered the world.
It was a world of darkness cut off from the source of all light, the Creator. Yet a light was breaking into the world. A young girl carried in her virgin womb a Son. This daughter of Eve was about to give birth to the One who would be the light of the world. This infant would reverse forever the horror of humanity’s fall into sin and death and darkness. This was the miracle of miracles: our human sister Mary became, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the mother of God, the bearer of the Savior of the world.
No human eye could perceive it that night. All that could be seen was a child. Yet this child would forever destroy the darkness, for He brought life into death, and His light was to be the light of the world.
Every force of Satan would seek to put that light out. Herod would attempt to destroy Him by killing every male infant. Scribes and Pharisees would seek to silence Him as He spoke words of life. Failing to silence Him, they would seek to kill Him. Some thirty-three years after the first Christmas, the Babe of Bethlehem would be nailed to a cross. But this is what He had come to do. The Advent story, including the culminating Christmas story, is about a baby who had been born to die—yet not just to die but to be placed in the utter darkness of a tomb and on Easter morning to burst forth from the tomb. When the child of Mary rose from the grave, the light that began at Bethlehem shone so brightly that no one can put it out.
This Advent, we gather in the name of Jesus and consider His great story anew. We’re going to do that in a fresh way by bringing out an old yet beautiful treasure from the attic of church history called a “Jesse Tree.” Christians began using Jesse trees centuries ago in medieval Europe. A Jesse Tree is a small evergreen tree that is decorated with ornaments or symbols that remind us of the story of Jesus from all of history, from the creation all the way to His second coming. Each ornament depicts an event in the Scriptures that pointed to the coming of the Christ as the Savior from sin. The story of the Bible, Old and New Testaments alike, is the story of Jesus. Isaiah prophesied six centuries before Jesus, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1). Jesus is that “shoot” coming from the stump of Jesse. Though the great tree of God’s people Israel, led by David the son of Jesse, had been cut down and destroyed because of their sin, that did not mean that God’s promise was cut off. His promise to David to make out of him an everlasting kingdom was fulfilled. In the full course of time, the shoot from the lineage of that great tree of Jesse, the father of King David came forth. God’s own Son took on flesh from Mary and was born in a manger so that He might be our Savior and bring us into His eternal kingdom.
If you’ve never had a Jesse tree in your home before (or even if you have!), I would encourage you to give it a try. You can make or buy small ornaments that depict the key events of the Old and New Testaments. Each day’s Advent devotion will focus on one of these events, and as you reflect on God’s work of salvation in that event, you place the ornament on the tree. It’s a great way to “count up” to Christmas! Each Sunday School family will receive a free Jesse Tree kit with ornaments to decorate and even a cardboard tree that can be used if you wish, along with a children’s book and family devotion book. If you do not have a child in Sunday School but would like one of these kits, call the church office and we can order one for you.
I look forward to our reflection together on Jesus, the Root and the Life of Jesse’s tree. He is the Firstborn of salvation, and I eagerly look forward praising Him together with you this Advent and finally on Christmas where with the angels we will sing, “To God on high be glory and peace to all the earth.”