The Tree of Jesse: A Traditional Lesson Plan, by Fr. Andrew George, is an advent activity for home, groups, or church school. (PRAXIS Fall 2009)
Our spiritual family tree is named after Jesse, the father of King David. “The royal line of David is like a tree that has been cut down; but just as new branches sprout from the stump, so a new king (Christ) will arise from David’s descendants.” The name “Jesse” is found in the Old Testament:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:1–3)
According to the Bible, Jesse had as many as eight sons, the youngest of whom was David, who became the second king of Israel after Saul.
Since the 11th century, the Tree of Jesse has been portrayed in manuscript illuminations, wall paintings, wood-carvings and stone, including tombstones, stained-glass windows, floor tiles and embroidery. Jesse is usually shown lying down with a tree rising from his body. The ancestors of Christ are portrayed in the tree’s branches, with the prophets and Christ at the top.
- Large craft paper, colored decorative papers, glue, scissors, paints, OR
- Trimmed branches from dormant trees anchored in a container with rocks (or quick-setting concrete)
- Colored decorative paper, paints, scissors and string
- Icon of Christ or the Nativity of the Lord
- For more images, readings, coloring pages, and ornament ideas for an Advent Jesse Tree, including filles of images that can be printed on shrink plastic, check out Festal Celebrations
During each of the four weeks before Christmas (i.e., Advent), study one Old Testament sign of Jesus and two ancestors of Jesus; see the chart in the PDF below for the progression.
- Create a tree display, either from craft paper to hang on a wall, or three dimensionally with branches anchored in a container with rocks.
- Have students create “leaves” from their own handprints.
- Create symbolic ornaments each week to decorate the tree.
- Have students develop and create ornaments with personal symbols, such as their names, descriptive words, or collages—however they feel led to express Christ in their own lives—and add these to the tree.
- During the last session (or on the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord itself ), add an icon of Christ to the tree trunk.