Prayers and Lessons in the Tradition of the Jesse Tree

The Jesse Tree

A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. (Isaiah 11:1)

Stained glass windows told the story of salvation and of the Scriptures to those who were illiterate, which was the majority in medieval times. Whoever could not read the Scriptures and receive the promises of God through words could experience them through the stories depicted so beautifully on the windows of the churches. This is similar to the purpose of the Jesse Tree, which also has its roots in medieval times. For the season of Advent the faithful would decorate their Christmas trees with symbols from salvation history recorded in the Scriptures. Each day of Advent a new symbol and biblical character would be added as an ornament to the tree as a way of illuminating the promises of God, culminating in the Nativity of his Son.

These spiritual exercises are meant to illumine the promises of God at work within us who believe as we prepare for the gift of Jesus Christ. God’s promises have been fulfilled throughout history in many and exciting ways in the lives of men and woman just like you. Jesse Tree exercises remind us that those promises are also being fulfilled in our own personal histories. These exercises can be a daily ornament to add to the tree of life planted in your heart.

Begin each day of exercises with these opening prayers from Venerable Bruno Lanteri, Founder of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary

¨ Almighty and Eternal God, I (name), although most  unworthy, but encouraged by your compassion and infinite mercy, and by the desire of serving you, offer before the Most Holy Virgin Mary and all the Court of Heaven, to your Divine Majesty, this day, and all my thoughts, words and actions in it. I humbly beg of your infinite goodness and mercy, by the Blood of Jesus Christ, that you choose to accept this offering in the odor of sweetness, and that as you have given me the grace to desire and to make this offering, so also you grant me the grace to fulfill it. Amen.

¨ O Virgin immaculately conceived, put into my heart those things of your Son most pleasing to him. Amen.

Day 8: Second Sunday of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)
Theme: Moses
Symbol: The Ten Commandments

Scripture: John 1:15-17
John testified to him and cried out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’” From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Reflection: In the summer of 1961 the Green Bay Packers reported to NFL training camp to begin the new football year. They had lost the previous year’s championship game in the 4th quarter. They were eager now to progress to the next level. Legendary coach Vince Lombardi opened the camp by holding up a football and announcing, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” His point was that the Packers would get to the next level by training hard on the fundamentals and taking no small thing for granted. They never lost a playoff game again under Lombardi. The commandments are our fundamentals. It is the base upon which the grace of Christ builds a champion of holiness. Where are you with the fundamentals?

Day 7: Saturday, First Week of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)
Theme: Joseph the Patriarch
Symbol: Coat of Many Colors (Ornamented Tunic)

Scripture: Genesis 37:3
Israel [Jacob] loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he had made him a long ornamented tunic.

Reflection: The coat of many colors was a gift from father to son to emphasize the great love with which Jacob loved Joseph. Ornamented coats were signs of great honor and privilege in the time of the Jewish patriarchs. You are greatly loved and favored by the Father who has clothed you in the grace of his only Son through baptism. Do you celebrate your baptismal day? Do you renew your baptismal vows on occasion? Do you “wear” your baptismal identity as a child of God over all your other clothes?

Day 6: Friday, First Week of Advent 
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)
Theme: Jacob
Symbol: Ladder

Scripture: John 1:50-51
Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Reflection: Jacob continued the line of the Jewish Patriarchs after Isaac. God showed him a vision of a great ladder stretching into heaven with angels ascending and descending. God was promising that heaven and earth would once again be connected and that access to his grace would be restored. Jesus is the true ladder. He connects heaven and earth perfectly, and he is the one who makes access to the Father a perfect reality. Upon Jesus do angels ascend and descend. Is Jesus your ladder? Do you make friendship with him a priority so that you will have access to the Kingdom of God?

Day 5: Thursday, First Week of Advent 
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)
Theme: Isaac
Symbol: Altar of Sacrifice

Scripture: Hebrews 11:17-19
By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name.” He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead, and he received Isaac back as a symbol.

Reflection: By asking for Isaac to be offered as a sacrifice, God was not playing with Abraham’s emotions, nor simply testing his willingness to obey. Isaac was the son of the promise. His was the first descendent from whom all other descendants would come, including Jesus; therefore, Isaac was a symbol of the whole future of Israel and of salvation history. God was asking Abraham to offer to him and to entrust to him the destiny of Israel and its history. That was the real sacrifice God wished for, not the slaying of Isaac. By restoring Isaac to his father, God was showing that anyone who entrusts their destiny to him will always be restored and have fullness of life.

Day 4: Wednesday, First Week of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)
Theme: Abraham
Symbol: Tent

Scripture: Nehemiah 9:7-8
You are the LORD God who chose Abram, Who brought him from Ur of the Chaldees, who named him Abraham. You found his heart faithful in your sight, you made the covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Girgashites to him and his descendants. You fulfilled your promises, for you are just.

Reflection: God’s plan of salvation began with Abraham. Through the original sin, mankind left God’s presence. But God called to Abraham to establish a covenant. He pitched his tent with Abraham and with you. In ancient times, to pitch one’s tent with someone meant that that tribe’s history was now your history. That their family was now your family and your history and your family was now theirs. God has made his history your history and his family your family. And he has taken on your history as well. Are you sharing your history with him? Are you sharing your family with him? And are you receiving his history as yours?

Day 3: Tuesday, First Week of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)
Theme: Noah
Symbol: Ark, Dove

Scripture: Isaiah 54:9
This is for me like the days of Noah: As I swore then that the waters of Noah should never again flood the earth, So I have sworn now not to be angry with you, or to rebuke you.

Reflection: God is the Father who keeps his promises. He has established a covenant, a communion of peace with you. The Church is the Ark that God has permanently established as the sign of his communion. Do you need to come back to God’s covenant of peace through confession, the sacrament of his mercy? Now is a very acceptable time.

Day 2 : Monday, First Week of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)
Theme: Adam and Eve
Symbol: Man and Woman, Apple

Scripture: Romans 5:12-15
Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world, though sin is not accounted when there is no law. But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who is the type of the one who was to come. But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by that one person’s transgression the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one person Jesus Christ overflow for the many.

Reflection: When Adam and Eve first looked at each other it was through the eye of God within each of them. God’s eye sees the heart. After disobedience to God they saw each other through their own eyes of self-gratification. Only through prayer can the eye of God  continue to grow within you.

Day 1:  First Sunday of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)
Theme: Creation
Symbol: The Earth

God creating the Sun, the Moon and the Stars, Jan Brueghel the Younger

Scripture: Job 12:7-10
But now ask the beasts to teach you, the birds of the air to tell you; or speak to the earth to instruct you, and the fish of the sea to inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of God has done this? In his hand is the soul of every living thing, and the life breath of all mortal flesh.

Reflection: God sustains you and all things in existence at every single moment. Every thing in nature around you “speaks” of the creativity of God. Every breath you take in is a new confirmation that God sees you, knows you, sustains you, loves you. Every breath out is a new opportunity to thank him, praise him, love him. What will you do with your breaths today?