“And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots” ~Isaiah 11:1
When I was younger (we’re talking teen years here), I tended to skip over the portions of the Bible that lay out genealogies. Admittedly, I didn’t get the point. I thought they were boring. What did it matter who begot who begot who? But then, one day, I began a new reading of the gospels–one of many I’ve undertaken over the years–starting with Matthew 1. This time, I didn’t skip. I didn’t skim. For some reason I couldn’t have identified–call it a spiritual nudge, if you will–I felt compelled to read the genealogy of Jesus slowly, one name at a time. As I did, names leapt out at me, almost as though I’d never seen them there before.
Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Judah. Tamar. (Tamar? Really?!) Boaz. Ruth. (Ruth!) Jesse. David. (David!) Solomon. Rehoboam.
I think I sat stunned for a moment. The lightbulb had flashed on. I flipped over to Luke, searching wildly. My fingers found Luke 3.
Shem. Noah. Methusaleh. Enoch. Seth. Adam.
For the first time, it came home to me, that thing Christians hear repeatedly in church sermons and Bible studies, that piece of Truth we toss around almost tritely to comfort ourselves or reassure others or to explain what we can’t otherwise explain about grace.
Jesus was always God’s plan.
It may seem silly or small, but it was one of the most powerful revelatory moments I’ve ever experienced while reading Scripture. I was so overwhelmed by the bigness of it that I cried. I felt like I could sense God smiling down at me, whispering See? It’s true. I always had a plan for my people. It’s not just something you say. It’s real.
Years later, when social media entered the scene, I began to see people posting pictures of something they called a Jesse Tree. It was in December, during the days leading up to Christmas. I didn’t know what a Jesse Tree was, but I was curious. As I read more, I discovered that it was the graphic representation of the genealogy of Christ, which has been depicted in art throughout the centuries. In recent years, some Christians have grafted the notion onto the idea of the Christmas tree (which, of course, has its roots in paganism and was reappropriated by the church). The point of the Jesse Tree is to trace the genealogy of Jesus during Advent, as we prepare to celebrate his birth. There are many ways to incorporate the idea of the Jesse Tree into your Advent and Christmas celebrations (there are resources all over the internet–just ask Mr. Google).
Some years I include the idea of the Jesse Tree into our Advent activities (we’re not a liturgical family by denomination, but I find myself leaning more and more in that direction as the years pass, and Advent has been the entry point for that), which include non-spiritual but family-centered things as well, like visits from The Elf on the Shelf, a Christmas puzzle we work on a little every night, and old-school Advent calendars with their daily bites of chocolate. My older daughter enjoys coloring the Jesse Tree paper ornaments from Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift and hanging them in a tree shape on the wall. We also celebrate St. Nicholas Day, or Sinterklaas, as part of my husband’s Dutch heritage. This year, my oldest has real klompen to set out the night before Sinterklaas.
Whatever your plans are, it’s good to remember that the point of Advent is joy and anticipation. Twenty-five days from now, we get to celebrate the day the Savior entered the world as a baby–a fragile, human baby. We can take a collective deep breath at the reminder that God became man for our sakes, and that he planned it from the moment sin entered the world.
Jesus was always his plan.
Harmony Harkema has loved the written word for as long as she can remember. A former English teacher turned editor, she has spent the past seven years in the publishing industry. A novelist and blogger in the fringe hours of her working mom life, Harmony also has a heart for leading and coaching aspiring writers. Harmony lives in Memphis with her car-loving husband and two small daughters. She blogs at harmonyharkema.com.
Photograph © Thought Catalog, used with permission