JO ANN PARADISE
The first temptation in the garden is the voice of the snake telling Eve that she can be more than God created her to be. Humanity’s cooperation with that lie brought disorder and sin into the world, and we are still reeling from its consequences.
Advent is a time when we remember that God so loved the world that he sent his Son to reconcile the world to him, to reestablish his order. While we await the second coming of Christ, we must make good use of the time we have to prepare. We must wait in joyful hope as we grow daily in understanding and accepting God’s gift of salvation.
Plan of Salvation
The characters of the Bible who wrestle with their limitedness help us to grow in understanding of our own. We see the consequences of sin and the faithful and merciful love of God. We come to understand through Isaac, Jacob, and Rachel that trusting in God and living out his will brings us meaning and true happiness. God invites us to add our story to his story of salvation.
Humans have an intuitive need to place their own stories into a bigger picture. We have pictures and videos to help us know where we come from and connect us to the past.
Connecting our children to the stories of Scripture allows them to be connected to the bigger picture. Their personal story is joined to the stories of others in God’s plan of salvation. From those stories, they can develop an understanding of God’s saving action that finds its fullness in the Incarnation. Jesus’ invitation to life through a relationship with him continues his saving action in their life, their story.
How fitting, then, that one of the practices of Advent is the Jesse Tree. Jesse was the father of King David. Two centuries after the death of King David, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem 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 fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:1-2).
Since Jesus’ family is traced through King David, Christians understand that the branch the Holy Spirit rests upon is Christ. We see the depiction of this image in the stained-glass windows of medieval churches. The Cathedral of Chartres, dedicated in 1260, has one of the most beautiful windows of all. It portrays the genealogy of Jesus in the form of a Jesse Tree.
The Story of Salvation
The Jesse Tree has continued to be a catechetical tool that connects us to the story of salvation. During Advent, catechists throughout the world often place a tree or a branch in their faith-formation space. These trees take every shape and form and can be artificial or living. The tree is decorated with various symbols. These symbols, whether drawn, colored by crayon, or originally crafted, remind us of the people who God invited into relationship with him. From the creation to the birth of Christ, the Jesse Tree tells the story of salvation through the stories of those who have responded to God’s invitation.
As you approach the feast of Christmas and are about to add the symbol for Jesus on your Jesse tree, help your children see the bigger picture. Ask them to add a symbol for themselves. Be clear and passionate as you share with them that, because of their baptism, God continues to reveal his love, mercy, and forgiveness to the world through their lives—their story. Together with the communion of saints, they are part of a bigger picture, a picture of God’s saving presence in the world.
Dr. Jo Ann Paradise lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her husband, Don, and extended family.
This article originally appeared in RTJ’s creative catechist November/December 2013.
Photo: anandaBGD, istock