Advent -- The Trees of Advent
Creating and Celebrating a Jesse Tree or Chrismon Tree
Trees make stories come alive. From the storytelling that happens under the baobab trees in African villages to the genealogy of family trees; from the dancing story of the Maypole to the carols sung around the Tannenbaum, trees have a central place in many seasons and cultures.
In the Christian tradition, trees trace roots back to Creation and God's satisfied pronouncement that "it is good!" The burning bush issued a call from God to the trembling Moses. The oaks of Mamre provided shade as Abraham and Sarah offered hospitality to the presence of God. And the tree of Calvary continually casts a shadow of ultimate love and sacrifice across the years.
The roots of a tree draw deeply from the past, and in the trees of Advent, the stories come from ancient wisdom, narratives of deliverance, and surprising prophecy. The rings of the trees count the years of God's ongoing love of human beings, a circle of forgiveness and freedom. The branches stretch to the future—sending us on the way of the prophets, in the footsteps of the Savior, and in the shade of the pilgrims who have gone before.
The trees of Advent also tell a story of Jesus, based on the ancestry recorded in scripture and the symbols of ancient narratives. Like the oxygenating trees of nature, these stories refresh the world, breathing new life into clouded, crowded chaos. The story of Jesus brings hope, as do the trees that absorb the used air and produce clean air. So the use of Jesse trees and Chrismon trees tell not only stories of faith, but represent symbols of hope for the world.
The tradition of the Jesse Tree dates back to medieval times, where examples in stained glass tell the story of the genealogy of Jesus. Of particular note is the window of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Denis which was created in the 12th century to trace the ancestry of Jesus described in scripture. The name of the tree refers to the lineage of Jesse, mentioned in Isaiah 11:1: "A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots." In creating a contemporary Jesse tree, one can use symbols from scriptural references and add others that have particular relevance for the local setting (e.g. who are some of the pioneers of faith in your community who have continued the traditions?).
The Chrismon tree was christened by Frances Kipps Spencer in the United States in the 1950's. The name "Chrismon" comes from the combination of Christ and monogram. At first this Advent evergreen tree was only decorated with classic monograms for Christ as the Chi Ro and ICTHUS. As the tradition evolved, however, other symbols for Christ were added as an anchor, chalice, and crosses of all kinds. Chrismons are usually made in gold and white—the liturgical colors of the Christmas season emphasizing majesty and coming of the light.
Both these trees can be a part of the storytelling that evokes anticipation and awareness in your congregation.
Constructing a Jesse Tree or Chrismon Tree
For Your Jesse or Chrismon Tree
• Invite the youth group or children to select a tree from among Christmas trees for this special purpose. Consider a "live" tree that might be planted at a later time.
• For a Jesse tree, construct a tree framework with seven branches that suggest the traditional menorah candle arrangement in traditional Jewish practice. You might use a jigsaw to cut a sheet of plywood for the frame and then staple on greenery as boxwood or evergreen bows.
• Use a large tree branch anchored in a bucket of sand or plaster. Hang the symbols from the smaller branches.
• Create a multimedia slide show that gradually adds on a new symbol or two each week of Advent. Relate to the scripture reading of that week, and create the opening slides for setting the theme in worship.
• Make a banner of a tree on which to affix the symbols.
• Hang symbols on an evergreen mobile.
• Create a tree out of a distinctive medium—chicken wire, papier mache, milk containers. Use your imagination and consider your own distinctive culture. Create symbols to adorn the storytelling tree.
For Materials to Create Symbols/Ornaments
• Cut out paper designs
• Quilt, appliqué, or needlepoint the symbols
• Bake clay ornaments in the shapes required (for the Chrismon tree, use gold glitter or white trim to stay consistent with the Chrismon theme)
• Create stained glass look-alike ornaments with tissue paper and craft sticks
• Make foil ornaments with string underneath to create a relief of the design (again, use gold paper for Chrismons)
• For devotional use at homes, use the symbols also on a wall hanging or placemat used as an Advent calendar. Assign a symbol for each day of Advent and tell the story of the symbol on that day.
For Suggested Symbols/Ornaments
For the Jesse Tree:
• Stars for Abraham (Genesis 15:1–6)
• Tent of hospitality for Sarah (Genesis 18:1–15)
• Bundle of sticks for Isaac (Genesis 22:1–19)
• Water jar for Rebekah (Genesis 24)
• Coat of many colors for Joseph (Genesis 37:2–11)
• Burning Bush (Exodus 3) or stone tablets for Moses (Exodus 24:12–18)
• Tambourine for Miriam (Exodus 15:20–21)
• Trumpet for Gideon (Judges 7)
• Grain for Ruth (Ruth 2:1–15)
• Lyre for David (1 Samuel 16:14–22)
• Lion and lamb for Isaiah (Isaiah 11:6–9)
There are many ways to interpret this tree. Other symbols from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Gospels, and congregational history may be added to facilitate the community storytelling.
For the Chrismon Tree (these or other Christian symbols):
• Chi Ro
Ideas for other symbols may be found in Patricia S. Klein's Worship Without Words: The Signs and Symbols of Our Faith (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2000) or in Fredrich Rest's Our Christian Symbols
(Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 1982).
Ideas for Worship Using a Tree of Advent
The Year C texts move from the mystery of the prophet's vision to the visceral power of the Magnificat, leading up to the power of the Incarnation. Arrange the distribution and hanging of the symbols to connect with the weekly texts.
Advent Hymns from The New Century Hymnal or other hymnbooks could be incorporated into a progressive decorating of the trees. Use the words to coordinate with each week's symbol or scripture passages.
Suggested hymns from The New Century Hymnal include:
• #104 "We Hail You God's Anointed"
• #107 (vs. 4) "Awake! Awake! And Greet the New Morn"
• #109 "With Joy Draw Water," especially this phrase, which could be a refrain for a call to worship, commissioning, or litany used when hanging the symbols.
"A shoot has sprung from Jesse's tree;
of God the chosen One.
A branch of knowledge and of truth;
A gift of love has come!"
• #116 "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" could be used each week adding a verse as more symbols are added to the trees corresponding to the verses used.
A Prayer of Dedication
Consider using the following prayer for dedicating the Jesse or Chrismon Tree or for hanging the ornaments:
O Branch of Hope,
we offer these symbols in thanksgiving
for the story of your love which shelters us.
O Root of Possibility,
we tell these stories about the ways the Impossible
has become possible through your presence.
O Shade of Compassion,
we linger here in the indigo days of Advent
to draw from your mercy.
Stretch the breadth of hope in us.
Bury your purpose within our lives,
digging deeper, and sweeter,
into our shallow soil,
bringing us life.
Shelter us a while
while we tell your story of incarnation,
of new life,
of the "yes"
the dry cracked soil.
Come to us.
Stay with us.
Breathe us into being.
If children and youth decorate the tree, do not rearrange the ornaments they put on. The point is not perfect aesthetics, but storytelling and passing on the faith tradition. Consider what they will remember and gain from the experience. Emphasize the wonder and joy of the ancestry of Jesus and the symbols of the faith rather than a perfectly-pretty tree.
Draw upon a variety of people and ministries in the church to express their interpretation of the Jesse Tree and Chrismons. This variety will help to reinforce the worship experience and learning:
• Coordinate with the Christian education ministry to include these symbols in the space, curriculum, and experiences of the children and youth.
• Use the symbols in the church website, newsletter, children's bulletins, youth group notes, and bulletin covers to provide overlap of exposure.
• Create trees for use at home during a pre-Advent workshop. Send home symbols each week that coordinate with the Sunday morning experience.
• Use the trees as collection spots for nonperishable food items, mittens, scarves, games, toys, books or toiletries to be distributed in your community to shelters, food pantries or social service centers.
Trees make stories come alive in a community of faith. May these trees bring new life to old, old stories in your congregations and communities this Advent!
This Advent resource was written by Laura Loving from Waukesha, WI. She is a minister in the UCC and serves as pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church in Muskego, WI. She is also a substitute teacher, a writer, crossword puzzle enthusiast, music lover, mother of three, and a clergy spouse.
Copyright 2003 Worship and Education Ministry Team, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ, Cleveland. Permission is granted to reproduce or adapt this material for use in services of worship or church education. All publishing rights reserved. Designed and printed by United Church Resources, Local Church Ministries.