Years ago, I wrote about our family’s Jesse Tree tradition. And then our girls grew older, and a few of our ornaments broke, and that one book felt a little tired after several straight years of readings. We decided it was time for a change, so we tried a different devotional each year; we sampled some Advent calendars and some reading cards. And we liked them all—the stickers, the paper ornaments, everything. They were fine.
But a few weeks ago, my eldest daughter (now fourteen) mentioned our Jesse Tree wistfully. “I liked that,” she said. And I felt resolved: our youngest is six—we haven’t done a Jesse Tree since she was a baby. So I ordered a new set of ornaments—a beautiful, lasting set that I could see the girls reminiscing over when we pull them out decades from now for the grandkids to play with. And I pulled out a book I’d bought, oh, years ago but never really used as a devotional.
My friends, the Jesse Tree is making a comeback. (At our house, at least.)
Geraldine McCaughean’s The Jesse Tree tells the story of Jesus’s birth from the very beginning—the garden. And it tells the story not through a series of Scripture readings—which, just to be clear, is a wonderful way to tell the story—but through a narrative. A young boy meets a cantankerous woodcarver and invites himself to watch the man at work. And as the woodcarver works, he finds himself telling, one day at time, the story of each element as he carves it. From the garden, to the desert, to the stable, he tells this delightfully pesky child the story of Jesus’s birth.
This is a warm, comfortable way to hear the story. It’s inviting and funny, and I can see it aging well as our girls (continue to) grow older.
Will we ever not do a Jesse Tree again? Who knows! I don’t. (God does.) But this feels like returning to our roots—like remembering what we’ve loved about Advent and gathering together around it. Remembering, I suppose, God’s faithfulness not just to His People, but to the six people here in our home and—Lord willing—the generations that will follow us.
Edited 12/7/22: It is worth noting, now that we’re a ways into this year’s reading, that there are some theologically sticky spots in this book—particularly around the stories of Noah and Mary. There’s nothing major, though, and even those spots made for good conversation around our table. I do still recommend this book, but I thought you’d appreciate a head’s up.
The Jesse Tree
Geraldine McCaughrean; Bee Willey (2003)