Spiritual Practices

Advent Trees: Jesse & Chrismon

Again, Advent is a time for spiritual preparation inviting us to pause and reflect, to dust off our souls, clean the cobwebs from our spiritual lives, and to de-clutter our schedules and lives to welcome the divine house guest into our hearts, souls, homes, and entire creation in Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

This evening, I will be sharing about Advent traditions that utilize the image or foundation of a tree.

The Jesse Tree
Our first Advent Tree tradition is the Jesse Tree, which is basically a Biblical family tree of Jesus.

I personally enjoy genealogy because our ancestors, their stories and histories, and their culture shapes our current family dynamics and individual personalities, whether embracing or rejecting family traditions and traits.

For example:
John (ex-husband) once announced that he had one question about by family, to which I replied: ‘only one?’. He claimed that the family is typical Irish, but he did not know how the entire (biological) family relocated from Indiana/Ohio to Arizona. I shared that essentially because two brothers fell in love with Arizona and decided to re-locate, their brother decided to join, their sister (mother) would eventually follow, and their mother (grandma) relocated after her husband’s death (step-grandpa who raised my mother). 

Despite internal conflicts, the Irish ‘Clan’ mentality remains, especially for the “Gapen Girls”, which is my mother, sister, and me… BUT, that is enough about my family dynamics.

The Jesse Tree is a popular image in Medieval Christian Iconography, or art, beginning in the 11th century. However, the imagery is scripturally based in Isaiah, which reads:

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and
a branch shall grow out of his roots.”
(Isaiah 11: 1)

Jesse is not an overly familiar figure in Scripture and Christianity; however, he was a shepherd and the father of David… King David. King David was a direct ancestor, a multiple generationally separated great-grandfather, of Jesus the Christ.

Similar to our own ancestry, this Scriptural ancestry continues to inform and shape the Israelites and Judaism, Christians and the Christian church universal, as well as Muslims and Islam.

The Advent practice of the Jesse Tree explores the Scriptural ancestry from creation until Jesus with assigned daily Scriptures from December 1 to December 25. After reflecting upon it, the participates create an ornament inspired by the Scripture and place it on a display.

The intention of the Jesse Tree is to encourage the participates to reflect upon Jesus and the Jesus Movement (or Christianity) as rooted in the whole of Holy Scripture through the ancestors, their stories and histories, and their culture, instead of beginning with a very young Israelite girl in first century Palestine pregnant with God in human flesh and bone.

I encourage you to discern creating a Jesse Tree this year or perhaps next.

The Chrismon Tree
The second Advent Tree tradition is the Chrismon Tree… not the Christmas Tree.
However, I understand the confusion.

Chrismon Trees are quite familiar, and yet you may not have distinguished these from Christmas Trees.

  • The tree in my home is a Christmas Tree.
  • The tree in the Narthex, or lobby, of Trinity Lutheran is a Christmas Tree.
  • The tree often in the sanctuary near the altar and lectern is a Chrismon Tree.

How are we able to distinguish between Christmas and Chrismon Trees?
Well, there are a few basic, differing features.

A Christmas Tree may be ever-green, but it may also be white or another color.

A Chrismon Tree will be an ever-green, artificial or real, because it symbolizes the eternity of God. God has, is, and will always and forever be.

A Christmas Tree may have multi-colored lights shining brightly.

A Chrismon Tree will be adorned with white lights only. White/Gold is the church color for Christmas.

A Christmas Tree will often be adorned with tinsel, beads, or strung popcorn spiraling around it.

A Chrismon Tree will not be adorned with tinsel, beads, or strung popcorn.

A Christmas Tree may have colorful ornaments.

A Chrismon Tree is adorned in white and gold only, again these are the church colors for Christmas.

A Christmas Tree may have ornaments that reflect your family, memories made, passions, and hobbies.

A Chrismon Tree is decorated only with Chrismons.

Chrismons are ancient symbols or images of Jesus the Christ and his earthly ministry. Chrismons include, but are not limited to: a descending dove, shepherd’s crook, chalice, and a cross. 

The intention of the Chrismon Tree, adorned with symbols of Jesus, is to draw our attention to and direct our minds, hearts, and souls to reflect upon Jesus the Christ: the person and the ministry.

Although the Chrismon Tree is a familiar sight, it is not an ancient tradition.
The Chrismon Tree tradition begun when an ever-green tree was decorated with Chrismons at the LUTHERAN Church of the Ascension (Woot! Woot!) in Danville, Virginia in 1957.

I challenge you to track the number of Chrismon Trees you see this holiday season.
You may be surprised at the count.

Advent Traditions is a Faith Formation resource created by Pastor Melinda Gapen.
Originally published digitally for 04 Dec. 2020 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).


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