Friends, I am so very excited to welcome you and your daughters along this year’s Advent journey.
My prayer is that the time you share through the next four weeks of this study will bless your relationship as mother and daughter while drawing you both closer to Christ.
Advent is a season of preparation for Christians as we prepare for Christ’s coming. In fact, the word “Advent” is actually derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” which is a translation of the Greek word parousia. Pretty nifty, right?
For the next four weeks, we are going to begin preparing a way for Jesus. However, before we dig into this week’s devotion, I thought it might be helpful to pause and reflect on the why behind Advent? What is the history behind this season of preparation?
From what historians know, Advent began in the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul as a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany. Stay with me. Epiphany (pronounced əˈpifənē) is a season of celebration in the Christian church beginning in early January of special moments in Jesus’ life, which include the visit of the Magi to baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1), His baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (John 1:29), and His first miracle at Cana (John 2:1). Originally during this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer and fasting to prepare for this celebration.
It was not until the 6th century that Christians in Rome connected Advent to the coming of Christ. However, the “coming” they had in mind was not the first coming of Christ in the manager in Bethlehem (as we often think of at Christmastime), but rather His second coming to judge the world. It was not until the Middle Ages that the Advent season was explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.
Today, the Advent season lasts four Sundays leading up to Christmas. While Advent is certainly a time of celebration and anticipation, it is so more than that.
With the excitement and joy of the Christmas season, we often forget that Advent is a time to prepare a place for Jesus within our hearts, our homes and our lives. How many of us rush through the season, eager to participate in all the fun activities and commercial hype of Christmas that we neglect to prepare a way for Jesus? Think about it. Christmas decorations begin populating stores in July. That’s officially six months before Christmas! Black Friday, Cyber Monday…the endless bombardment of ads that entice us to devote our time and treasures to boosting sales. Elf on the Shelf. Planning for Christmas parties. Teacher gifts. The list of stuff we cram into our Christmas season seems endless.
However, among the joy of Christmas and the clutter of commercialism is the quiet voice of Jesus telling us to “make straight the path” and to prepare a place, to make ready our hearts for the Good News.
This Advent season, I invite you to pause with me. Let us slow down and prepare a way for Jesus. You know why? He has already prepared a way for us. Long before Jesus became a man, God began preparing a way for you and me.
For this first week of Advent, we are going to begin preparing a way with our very own Jesse Tree. This is an old Christmas tradition, which first began during medieval times. Jesse Trees have been used for hundreds of years to help tell the story of the Bible from creation to the Christmas Story.
Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot—
yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.
And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
In that day the heir to David’s throne
will be a banner of salvation to all the world.
The nations will rally to him,
and the land where he lives will be a glorious place.
Isaiah 11:1-2, 10
The beauty of this story is that God used a very unlikely family tree for His Son. King David was the youngest son of a man named Jesse (one of Jesus’ great-great-great something grandfathers). When God sent Samuel to anoint the next king of Israel, David was just a scrawny shepherd boy and a very unlikely candidate when compared to his older, stronger brothers. Yet, God prepared a way.
Jesus’ family tree is full of men and women who were perfectly imperfect (Matthew 1). Believe it or not, the branches of Jesus’ family tree include liars, cheaters, back-stabbers, adulterers and the broken-hearted. Sounds like a reality television drama, doesn’t it? God miraculously grew a shoot out of a dying stump (Isaiah 11:1). This new shoot bore our hope, our salvation and a new life.
As you decorate your tree this year, of course, enjoy those special ornaments that you have eagerly anticipated unwrapping since they were lovingly packed away last year. This year, however, I encourage you to include a new something special that will remind you of Jesus’ family tree.
The first Jesse Trees were large carvings, tapestries or even stained glass windows put in churches that helped those who were unable to read or write understand God’s love letter to us, the Bible. I am so not in the business of adding more to your growing list of to do’s, so please do not pick up wood whittling tools or tapestry thread just yet. Your Jesse Tree can be your own Christmas tree or a paper banner in the shape of a tree. Feel free to use my complimentary printable star template or make your own.
The idea is to remember every time you gaze upon those branches that God prepared a way for you just as He prepared a way for His only Son to come into this world as man.
Starting this week, add a new ornament to your tree or banner each day. Pick a story from the Bible and draw a symbol on your star. Here are few ideas to get you started:
An Activity for Mom & Me
Quick note: As with all Girls of Grace Bible studies, this Advent series includes a weekly Mom & Me activity. These are fun activities meant to be enjoyable and inclusive for all family members, which are designed to help you dig a little deeper into the weekly devotion in a fun way. While this element of Bible study is completely optional, it is sure to be entertaining and memorable, so I encourage you to make time for these activities if at all possible.
Preparing a Way: The Jesse Tree
What you’ll need:
- Ribbon or yarn
This week, begin work on your Jesse Tree. Remember, this can be as simple or elaborate as you like. Your time spent working on your tree should feel like a blessing, not added stress.
My girls and I purchased an inexpensive Norfolk pine tree from the grocery store to use as our Jesse Tree ($20). However, you can use your Christmas tree or simply make a tree shape out of butcher paper. The medium is entirely up to you. You are welcome to use this free downloadable Jesse Tree star template to make ornaments for your tree. Download that template here: jesse-tree-star-template.
Or if you are super crafty, feel free to create your own! My girls like to make their own ornaments, and we typically try to use supplies we have laying around the house or fun materials we may find on a walk outside. Get creative, and have fun!
My family takes turns hosting Christmas Eve and Christmas Day meals, and it’s my turn to host both this year. Deep breaths! Remember, low stress. My girls and I are using our Jesse Tree as a visual reminder that we need to prepare a way for Jesus just as we are preparing our home for family and friends. Friends who come by for seasonal fun will also be invited to add to our Jesse Tree, so think of creative ways to get your loved ones involved in preparing a way for Jesus.
Next Sunday, we will continue our journey of preparing a way during this Advent season. I pray you and yours have a very blessed week, and I look forward to seeing and hearing about the progress of your Jesse Trees!
“The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.”
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity