The Jesse Tree
Geraldine McCaughrean and Bee Willey
“He’s Once-upon-a-time and The-End!”
Last week, I wrote about celebrating Advent and mentioned that we would be reading The Jesse Tree, by Geraldine McCaughrean, in our home this season. I was thrilled to discover the concept of the Jesse tree along with this lovely book. A brief bit of history, for those of us to whom this is a new tradition: after prophesying the utter destruction and captivity of Israel, the prophet Isaiah foresaw God’s promised renewal for his people. One of the most lovely images is in the oracle in Isaiah 11, where Isaiah turns from descriptions of desolation, felled trees and burned-out stumps to the coming of a Messiah from the dead and captive line of Jesse. “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots” (11:1). Geraldine McCaughrean explains in her introduction:
It is this verse which gave rise to the tradition of Jesse trees in churches. Jesse trees were the Bible-storybooks of unlettered people. A priest could point to the figures or symbols and tell the stories of those Old Testament kings, prophets, heroines, warriors. And the tree itself served to show how the New Testament grew out of the Old Testament; how, for Christians, the birth of Jesus was not just a beginning, but a completion. He was the flowering of a tree planted long before, by God’s own design.
This lovely Advent book illustrates God’s Big Story for the little unlettered people living in our families. It is divided into 24 stories, one for each day of Advent and each figure on the tree. A master craftsman is carving a Jesse tree in the church in a vacation town when a young boy stumbles in the door. Unfamiliar with the Bible, the boy is fascinated and demands that the craftsman tell him the story of each figure as he carves. The old man resents the intrusion at first, but as the days go by and the stories unfold, the two come to appreciate and understand the gradual flowering of the Jesse tree.
What I especially appreciate about this book is its thoughtful design. To be sure, it’s a collection of Bible stories – and we surely have plenty of those around our house! But these stories have been selected with care, and really bring the metaphor of the Jesse tree to life: God is not responding to events willy-nilly, but has an eternal purpose that he is working out through one family, one people, for all the world. Jesus is the living, fruit-bearing branch of an ancient and deeply rooted tree.
The illustrations are eye-catching, but this is a story book, not a picture book. My almost-four-year-old daughter just has the attention span for them, and my guess is that families with children between 5 and 10 will enjoy it the most. If you are looking for a way to celebrate Advent as a season of expectation, and to wait with God’s people for the coming Messiah, I highly recommend sharing this book with your family!
(And, if you’re a total overachiever, check out this archived post from Simple Mom on how to make your own Jesse tree. Let us know if you do it, and how it goes!)