Advent is a time of preparation. Specifically in the Christian church, Advent is the time of preparation leading up to the celebration of Christ’s birth. I grew up in an Episcopal church. Advent was a time of great ceremony leading up to a Christmas Eve service full of incense, pomp, and ritual. For much of our married life The Furry Guy and I attended Methodist churches. Again, there was a lot made of the season of Advent. To be honest, while I enjoyed the formal observance of Advent, I can’t say it transferred over into my personal devotional life. Well, I do make sure that most of the craziness of holiday shopping is done before Advent begins, giving me more peace and more time to reflect on the spiritual side of the season. Still, I can’t say that I was particularly focused on Advent in my devotional life.
The Furry Guy and I now attend a non-denominational church. There’s not a lot of ceremony or ritual involved in our worship services. And we’re glad of that. It’s sometimes easy to let the corporate, ceremonial stuff take the place of a more personal relationship with Christ. For a few years I made up for the lack of Advent focus at church with an Advent wreath in my home.
An Advent wreath is generally a wreath displayed on a horizontal surface with four candles standing up from it. A fifth candle sits in the middle. On each of the four Sundays in Advent the candles on the wreath (one the first Sunday, two the second Sunday, etc.) are lit. On Christmas Eve all of the candles, including the one in the middle, are lit. With the lighting of each candle Scriptures are read and prayers said. It was a tradition from my childhood that I enjoyed. The colors of the candles and details of the ceremony vary from denomination to denomination.
Last year I made a change. Last year (I think it was sometime in October) someone asked me if I’d ever heard of a Jesse Tree. I had not, so I looked it up. It transformed my Advent season. Starting on the first Sunday of Advent (which was yesterday), there is a Scripture or set of Scriptures to read every day taking me through the lineage of Christ. It starts with the selection of David as God’s anointed. David was Jesse’s son, a shoot of Jesse’s family tree. As the prophecy from Isaiah 11:1 says, “And there shall come forth a Shoot out of the stock of Jesse and a Branch out of his roots shall grow and bear fruit.”
After reading the first Scriptures (1 Samuel 16:1-13 and Isaiah 11:1-10) you put up a tree. For the sake of expediency I put my tree up Saturday while I was decorating the house. Some people use a small Christmas tree. Last year I went to a teachers’ store and bought a heavy paper tree that can be used on a wall or bulletin board and can be used over and over. Then, starting the first Monday of Advent a symbol representing each of the people in the lineage of Christ is added each day.
If you do an online search for “Jesse Tree” you’ll find free downloads for the Scriptures, the list of symbols or ornaments for each one, and even ornament graphics that can be printed and cut out at home. It’s certainly not too late to do one this year.
No matter how you choose to focus on the spiritual side of Advent, I hope you’re taking time in the next four weeks to think about the tremendous sacrifice Christ made in giving up His heavenly reign for a while and becoming one of us, knowing full well the supreme sacrifice He would be making. Christ is the ultimate, most marvelous Christmas gift.