Promise becomes alive
By EDWARD HAYS
The Jesse tree is an evergreen sign of Gods ability to sprout a new divine dream after it has been cut back and apparently destroyed. Old Jesse of Bethlehem was the father of David, who became king of Israel and whose dynasty rule was promised to last forever. Generations after David, Babylonians chopped down that royal family tree, destroyed Solomons temple and carried off the Jewish elite into exile in Babylon. In their mournful exile, the prophet Isaiah -- shown in the lower branches on the right side of this Jesse tree -- sang a song of hope, pointing toward a promised prophecy: A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. In his arm Isaiah is pictured holding the scrolls of the other prophets and proclaiming the name of the promise to be Emmanuel, which means God with us.
Back at the beginning, God promised a Savior to Adam and Eve, whose disobedience and failure to love is signified by the half-eaten apple and the serpent curling in the trees roots. John the Baptist, the prophet of the Jordan -- shown in the lower branches on the left -- is the patron saint of Advent preparation, having announced a baptism of repentance to prepare the way for the Savior. Above him, playing the harp, is King David, the ancestor of Joseph the carpenter of Nazareth, who would be known as the father of Jesus.
In the center of the tree is the Advent wreath, its candles counting time. Out of the wreath rises St. Nicholas, the patron saint of gift-giving, whose feast is celebrated early in Advent.
To his right is Mary of Nazareth, with the archangel Gabriel announcing to her that she has been chosen to be the mother of the Savior by the power of the Holy Spirit. Above her is the imperial Caesar Augustus ordering a Roman census of the world in which each subject was to return to his home village to be registered. So Joseph of the house of David of Bethelehem took his pregnant wife from Nazareth to register in his familys Little Town, shown at the base of the Christmas tree.
Over the night-shrouded hills, an angel points the way to frightened shepherds toward the village where Mary had given birth to their long-awaited Savior. Opposite them in the tree are the Magi kings and the great star that had led them to Bethlehem to present their gifts to the infant Prince of Peace.
The lower branches of the tree are covered with the purple leaves of Advent longing and preparation for the arrival of Gods Promise. When the Promise becomes alive in Marys womb, the leaves turn to vibrant joyful green, and their top branches curve into the Christmas tree on which reigns the infant Savior wrapped in swaddling bands as foretold to the shepherds. The apple of Adam and Eve, a bitter sign of disobedience, is replaced at the top by golden and orange ornaments, representing the fruit of the Christ Child, whose arms are spread outward in a world-encompassing blessing.
National Catholic Reporter, December 20, 2002