Prayers and Lessons in the Tradition of 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 25: Merry Christmas!

Scripture: Luke 2:15-20
When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

Reflection: Think frequently of the Lord and thank him for the goods that we possess and hope to possess, for example, for the great good of the grace of God that we possess and for the paradise for which we hope. Let us go often to take from the angels and Blessed above an air of joyfulness, thinking that from now on we are citizens of heaven and fortifying ourselves in Christian hope. Consider the merits connected with each good action and the communion of saints to which we belong. — Venerable Bruno Lanteri

Day 24: Tuesday, Fourth Week of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)
Theme: Jesus
Symbol: The Manger

Scripture: Luke 2:12-14
“And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Reflection: Soon we shall behold the infant king lying not on an ivory bed but on a manger filled with hay, with beasts as his companions. Kings usually put on the choicest clothes, but this king is wrapped in swaddling clothes. This king and the circumstances of his birth are not very appealing from a worldly perspective. God’s ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts. Let us then go out of our way to follow him, so that we will be able to rise above the discomforts surrounding his birth—and the ones we experience in our own lives celebrating with him— and pay him homage. He was rejected by some of his people at the inn, and he rested with beasts. Is there room within you for the poor and lowly in this busy season?

Day 23: Monday, Fourth Week of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)

Theme: The Blessed Virgin Mary
Symbol: White Lilly

Scripture: Luke 1: 46-49
And Mary said: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour; because he has looked upon the humiliation of his servant. Yes, from now onwards all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.

Reflection: Mary, the New Eve, has every reason to rejoice. God has accomplished much in her. Cooperation with the abundant grace of God brings about fulfilment and great joy. When God uplifts you, you are uplifted indeed. The Father has raised Mary up, for she acknowledged that all she has comes from him. She was able to put herself at God’s service, especially in her glorious assent to the divine indwelling that brought about the Incarnation. Every good mother desires the best for her children. All generations must call her blessed. It is her wish to share her blessedness with all her children during this season and beyond.

Day 22: Fourth Sunday of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)
Theme: Joseph, the Husband of Mary
Symbol: Carpenter’s Angle

Scripture: Matthew 1: 19-20
Her husband Joseph, being an upright man and wanting to spare her disgrace, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit.”

Reflection: Family life can be complicated. There seems to always be something to worry about. For a family to be holy requires attending to every issue that may arise with prayerful dialogue and seeking for divine assistance. Joseph was not spared his share of trial. In his humility, the pregnancy of Mary took him by surprise. He even contemplated quiet divorce out of the respect he had for her and for the designs of God. Before acting though, Joseph kept his heart opened to the Lord who then shed light on his contemplation. Consequently, Joseph gained wisdom and understanding. We must learn from his receptivity to divine illumination. If every action considered in the midst of daily difficulties is subjected to divine light, there is no limit to where the Holy Spirit may lead us.

Day 21: Saturday, Third Week of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)

Theme: John the Baptist
Symbol: Sea Shell

Scripture: Matthew 3: 1-3
In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea [and] saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: “A voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’”

Reflection: Before a major event takes place or special guest comes to visit, there is usually some form of preparation to be done. Our long expected Visitor is close by. He is comfortable with places that are low. He yearns to be accommodated in hearts that stay low. John the Baptist is therefore asking a room for him, because we have a lot to gain if he finds a suitable abode in us. A critical self examination is needed to check areas in our spiritual life that need finishing touches in preparation

Day 20: Friday, Third Week of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)

Theme: Elizabeth
Symbol: Mother and Child

Scripture: Luke 1:57
When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son.

Reflection: To every event or problem that exists on earth, there is usually an appointed time for the event to occur or for the problem to be solved. To many that doubt the power of God, a baby in the hands of the elder and infertile Elizabeth could be at best described as a dream or a mirage. But it is real, God has done it; her shame is gone. Those who were laughing at her, now have no choice but to laugh with her. To many who are in agony waiting on God for a favor, your appointed time will come. It calls for patience and an attentive listening to God. This is because it is either that God will give you what you want in a little while, or he has even granted you the necessary grace to persevere with the particular situation. Let us be hopeful, for the God we serve is the Alpha and Omega, able to give a perfect solution to our problems with the event of his Advent.

Day 19: Thursday, Third Week of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)

Theme: Jeremiah the Prophet
Symbol: Tears

Scripture: Jeremiah 14:17
Therefore thou shalt say this word unto them; Let mine eyes run down with tears night and day, and let them not cease: for the virgin daughter of my people is broken with a great breach, with a very grievous blow.

Reflection: Tears manifest the disposition of a person. When Peter heard the cock crow after he had denied Christ three times he shed tears. He was contrite of heart. This was practically missing in Judas who went and committed suicide. Christ’s coming is so near, the demand for sincere and heart felt tears night and day is high. Christ needs a living tabernacle in which to dwell. He was denied at the inn and animals accepted and shared with him their abode. He is asking for a suitable dwelling place.

Day 18: Wednesday, Third Week of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)
Theme: Jonah
Symbol: Whale

Scripture: Matthew 12:39-40

[Jesus] said to them in reply, “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.

Reflection: Most of us know what it is like to be swallowed up in some darkness. Whether grief at the loss of friends and family, failure at a job or project, or the pain of a relationship lost, or a loved one who has abandoned us, the darkness may well feel like being caught in the belly of Jonah’s whale. How did we get here, and how do we get out? Jesus knows this darkness too. He descended into the heart of the earth and descends into any heart experiencing darkness to bring his life, his light, his resurrection. Do you call out to Jesus in times of darkness, doubt or confusion? Jonah’s time in the darkness led him to greater wisdom and understanding. Might your times of darkness be the same?

Day 17: Tuesday, Third Week of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)
Theme: Isaiah the Prophet
Symbol: Burning Coals

Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-7

In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple. Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they hovered. One cried out to the other:

“Holy, holy, holy  is the LORD of hosts!

All the earth is filled with his glory!”

At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it. “See,” he said, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”

Reflection: The glory of the Lord shines forth in the depth of things. Whenever we can see deeper than the mere appearance we can experience God’s glory, as in the Eucharist or in the smile and laughter of a baby. The glory of the Lord indeed fills the earth, are you looking for it today?

Day 16: Monday, Third Week of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)
Theme: Elijah the Prophet
Symbol: Chariot of Fire

Scripture: 2 Kings 2:9-11
When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, “Request whatever I might do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha answered, “May I receive a double portion of your spirit.” He replied, “You have asked something that is not easy. Still, if you see me taken up from you, your wish will be granted; otherwise not.” As they walked on still conversing, a fiery chariot and fiery horses came between the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.

Reflection: Elijah was the greatest of the prophets who defended the honor of the Lord on Mt. Carmel. It is in his spirit that the precursor of the Lord was to come. And Elisha dared to ask for a double portion of his spirit. Elisha’s request was very bold. Do you ask bold things of God? Do you have the confidence to ask big things of God? The Lord is generous and wants a heart big enough to ask for things in accord with his desire to grant them.

Day 15: Third Sunday of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)
Theme: Solomon
Symbol: The Temple

Scripture: 1 Kings 8:17-18
Now it was in the heart of my father David to build a house for the name of the LORD, the God of Israel. But the LORD said to my father David, ‘Because it was in your heart to build a house for My name, you did well that it was in your heart.’

Reflection: Though it would be Solomon who would build the Temple to God, it was first in the heart of David to do so. The Temple is the place of sacrifice, the place where God and his people come close and exchange gifts of intimacy and fidelity. The true Temple is always the heart. It is in a heart filled with the Holy Spirit, following Jesus, that true sacrifice is made to God. The true sacrifice is your self, your destiny, your plans. Share them with God. Let the doors of your temple open for God that he may have room in your heart to share his designs for all he wishes to build within you.

Day 14: Saturday, Second Week of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)
Theme: David
Symbol: A Crown

Scripture: Proverbs 4:5-9

Get wisdom, get understanding!

Do not forget or turn aside from the words of my mouth.

Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you;

love her, and she will safeguard you;

The beginning of wisdom is: get wisdom;

whatever else you get, get understanding.

Extol her, and she will exalt you;

she will bring you honors if you embrace her;

She will put on your head a graceful diadem;

a glorious crown will she bestow on you.”

Reflection: David was the youngest and smallest of Jesse’s seven sons; yet he was chosen by God to be king, because God looks into the heart where he could see David’s trust in him. Wisdom, not power, is the crown the saint seeks. Are you seeking greater understanding of your faith this Advent? Are you growing in the wisdom of God?

Day 13: Friday, Second Week of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)
Theme: Jesse
Symbol: A Root

Scripture: Isaiah 11:10
On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the peoples — Him the nations will seek out; his dwelling shall be glorious.

Reflection: From the marriage of Boaz and Ruth came Obed. From Obed came Jesse and from Jesse, David the king. From this root would spring Jesus the Messiah. Little seeds of fidelity to God’s word planted in the heart produce a great harvest, sometimes many years and generations away. This is the mid-point of Advent. Are you still remaining faithful to little acts of fidelity to God in preparation for the great harvest of God’s Son, the blossom from the root of Jesse?

Day 12: Thursday, Second Week of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)
Theme: Ruth
Symbol: Grain

Scripture: Ruth 2:5-7
Boaz asked the young man overseeing his harvesters, “Whose young woman is this?” The young man overseeing the harvesters answered, “She is the young Moabite who came back with Naomi from the plateau of Moab. She said, ‘I would like to gather the gleanings into sheaves after the harvesters.’ Ever since she came this morning she has remained here until now, with scarcely a moment’s rest.”

Boaz then spoke to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Do not go to glean in anyone else’s field; you are not to leave here. Stay here with my young women.”

Reflection: Ruth earned her reputation among Boaz and the Israelites for her unyielding fidelity to Naomi, her mother-in-law. With the loss of Naomi’s husband and both of her sons she faced the prospects of a dire life of loneliness and poverty. Ruth, despite being a foreigner to Israel, would not abandon Naomi. Is there anyone you know who walks alone waiting for the gift of someone’s presence? Perhaps yours?

Day 11: Wednesday, Second Week of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)
Theme: Samson
Symbol: Locks of Hair

Scripture: Judges 13:3-5
An angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her: Though you are barren and have had no children, you will conceive and bear a son. Now, then, be careful to drink no wine or beer and to eat nothing unclean, for you will conceive and bear a son. No razor shall touch his head, for the boy is to be a nazirite for God from the womb. It is he who will begin to save Israel from the power of the Philistines.

Reflection: Confirmation might be called the lost sacrament. It is usually associated with a graduation from a religious program. Really, it is a form of consecration and strengthening in the Holy Spirit for one to act in the priestly service of Christ. Like Samson the confirmed have been designated by God and outfitted to participate in his work of salvation for others. Have you reflected on your confirmation lately? Have you “exercised” your spiritual muscles in the service of the gospel?

Day 10: Tuesday, Second Week of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)
Theme: Rahab
Symbol: Scarlet Cord

Scripture: Joshua 2:15-21
Then she let them down through the window with a rope; for she lived in a house built into the city wall. “Go up into the hill country,” she said, “that your pursuers may not come upon you. Hide there for three days, until they return; then you may go on your way.” They answered her, “We are free of this oath that you made us take, unless, when we come into the land, you tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you are letting us down. Gather your father and mother, your brothers, and all your family into your house. Should any of them pass outside the doors of your house, their blood will be on their own heads, and we will be guiltless. But if anyone in your house is harmed, their blood will be on our heads. If, however, you betray our mission, we will be free of the oath you have made us take.” “Let it be as you say,” she replied, and sent them away. When they were gone, she tied the scarlet cord in the window.

Reflection: Rahab protected the Israelite spies because they were messengers of God. Is there a special place in your heart for those who are faithful to God? Do you see God’s faithful as messengers?

Day 9: Monday, Second Week of Advent
Prayer of Ven. Bruno Lanteri (above)
Theme: Joshua
Symbol: Wall of Jericho

Scripture: Hebrews 11:30
By faith the walls of Jericho fell after being encircled for seven days.

Reflection: By faith the walls came down. One might think the armies of Israel led by the great warrior Joshua brought the walls of Jericho down. It was indeed listening to the word of God and trusting in it that led to the collapse of the walls. Joshua was a great leader because he first placed himself under God and became a servant of his word. Are you listening to the Word of God? Do you wish to be a servant of this word?

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?