The Gift of Advent

The Commotion of Christmas

While Sunday, November 29, starts the Advent season, the world around me tries to tell me otherwise.

Black Friday notifications have inundated my email inbox for weeks. Pop up notifications urge me to shop now. As Andy and I returned home from a University of Maine hockey game last weekend, I remarked on the several homes adorned with well-lit Christmas trees in front windows. In September, I shook my head as I walked through big box stores, past wintry displays of artificial Christmas trees.

In years past, I was ushered into the hurry and blur of an overscheduled Christmas season. My Advent was overcrowded with shopping, parties and cooking. Covered in confectioner’s sugar and flour, I baked to exhaustion. I rushed to concerts and cookie swaps, and strived to wear the perfect outfit and give perfectly wrapped gifts.

Settling into the Season

A few years ago, Andy and I resolved to stop making Christmas about presents and gifts, but about the Giver. We slowed down­—and settled in—to find Advent, the birth of our true Christmas season. We learned how to unwrap a greater Gift—a Gift that holds us.

The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus ‘arrival,’ from advenire, and from ad- ‘to’ + venire ‘come.’ Advent marks the beginning of our time of waiting.

Waiting can be a challenge. We wait for appointments, a child’s birth, vacations and the perfect job. We hang on for medical test results, recovery and restored relationships. We wait to be relieved of our emotional pain. We look for answers and search for hope.

Advent is known for its spirit of anticipation, of preparation of the coming of Jesus.

Three years ago, Andy and I embraced a new Advent tradition, where we wait with anticipation.

Traditions: The Jesse Tree

The other evening, Andy and I washed dinner dishes and chatted over the details of this Thanksgiving.

I placed forks in the drawer. “By the way, we need to get our Jesse tree this week.”

During the last week in November, we ride back country roads in search of a little Spruce sapling. I spot the “perfect” one in the distance. Andy parks the truck alongside the dirt road. We traipse in the woods and examine it, only for me to say, “I think we need to keep looking.” Eventually, we agree upon one and bring it home.

Andy laces fishing line around the base of the tree’s bottom branches and hooks it upside down on the wrought iron hanger in our kitchen.

What is a Jesse tree? The Jesse tree is the family tree of Jesus, and is based on scripture in Isaiah 11:1-3: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” It is used to tell the story of the Bible—from Adam to Jesus.

The Jesse tree can be a small evergreen in an urn, branches gathered in a vase or like ours, a sapling hung upside down.

From December 1 to Christmas, Andy and I read a nightly devotion from Ann Voskamp’s book, The Greatest Gift. With lights dimmed and house still, we sit close on our sofa and read aloud. We soak in the words and reflect on the unwrapping of Christmas. Then we hang an ornament that represents the story of people in Jesus’ family tree.

I remember one night we dwelled in a space of closeness—like we had many years before when we bowed heads and bent knees for the first time. It caught our breath and stirred our hearts, warm and full. This Spiritual love flowed vertically and horizontally, leaving us steeped in His presence.

For several days, our Jesse tree hangs with slackened branches. As Christmas approaches, the sapling’s hanging boughs gracefully lift like delicate angel wings reaching for the Heavens.

The Gift

The Jesse tree tradition has changed me. Before I approach the Christmas tree, I draw closer to Christ’s family tree through our Jesse tree. I meditate on the miracle of God becoming one like me and remember the three ways in which Jesus comes: Click To Tweet

  1. Jesus came as a baby in a manager.
  2. Jesus wants to come into our lives.
  3. Jesus will come back to the world as King, not a baby.

I recently read a quote: The greatest gift you will ever receive will never be found under a Christmas tree. It is far too valuable to be stored in any other place but in the depths of your heart. – Anonymous

That perfectly wrapped Gift is Jesus.


NOTE: The first year, I used the password provided inside Ann’s book to print free paper ornaments from her website, A Holy Experience. The following year, I purchased ornaments from Dayspring.

For families with young children, please consider Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas.)


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