I kind of have a thing for advent calendars, and a quick tour of my house during the holidays reveals an assortment of them: ones with wooden doors to open or a snowflake to move into little felt pockets or magnet ornaments to add to a metal tree.
Around my house, there are plenty of ways to count down to Christmas.
I enjoy the countdown tradition not only because it lends a sense of drama to the advent season but also because it underscores the very meaning of the word advent: the coming.
For the prefix ad- that means to or toward and the Latin word venire that means to come, we get the Middle English word advent, which means the coming or the arrival and is usually used to indicate the first instance of a certain thing coming into existence or hitting the scene.
Since the entire word advent is included within the word adventure, we may not be surprised to learn that the word advent shares a root with the word adventure and its wonderfully significant definition, what will happen?
There is a sense of wonder and excitement essential to understanding advent: It’s coming! What will happen? It is this sense that’s captured perfectly in my favorite countdown calendar: the Jesse Tree, an advent tradition that shows us that the entire Old Testament is basically also an advent calendar. Because when we study Scripture, we see that all of it was always pointing to Jesus.
Advent & the Old Testament
As I am fond of mentioning over and over to my Sunday school students (whether or not they are fond of hearing it), the whole Bible, while made up of many books and many stories, is really just one big long story: an adventure of the rightful king coming to take His rightful place on His rightful throne at the rightful time.
This adventure story is one that is told through the Jesse Tree, which breaks down this kingly adventure story into twenty-five individual passages to show how the Old Testament itself counts down to the coming of Christ, to the birth of the King of Kings.
Each day of the countdown features an ornament that represents a particular Scripture passage and is hung on a tree. Today’s post focuses on seven of the passages, presenting the Scripture, the symbol, and the connection to the coming of Christ.
But first, Jesse
We know this countdown calendar is called the Jesse Tree, but who is this Jesse anyway?
And we know David: the shepherd-turned-king who defeated a giant and hid in caves and wrote poetry and played the harp and led legions of mighty men into battle and killed his tens of thousands of enemies and brought back the arc of the covenant and ruled Israel for forty years.
That David. And Jesse was his dad.
So why is this advent tradition named after Jesse and not David? The answer takes us back to roots of this family tree.
ONE · the stump of Jesse ·
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit…
In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples.
Scripture · Isaiah 11:1, 10
Symbol · a small green shoot or a stump
Connection to the coming of Christ · A shoot is the small, new little growth of a plant, so the idea here is of something that looks like it is dead and gone—like there is nothing left but an old stump—but it’s not. It will grow back and will be better and stronger than before. In this case, it will seem like the family of Jesse has been gone and forgotten, but there will actually still be roots from which the rightful king will grow and be restored.
In fact, the whole chapter of Isaiah 11 is about how Jesse’s family through the Davidic kingdom will be restored by Christ, telling many of the things that will happen when the restoration does occur.
This prophecy comes true in the birth of Christ in that He does come from the lineage of Jesse. The begat chapter in Luke traces the lineage of Mary, and the begat chapter in Matthew traces the lineage of Joseph; Jesse is mentioned in both lines (Luke 3:31-32; Matthew 1:6). If you are curious where the family tree splits, it is in the sons of David: Mary through Nathan and Joseph through Solomon.
TWO · the last Adam ·
Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden;
and there he put the man he had formed.
And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—
trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.
In the middle of the garden were the tree of life
and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Scripture · Genesis 2:8-9
Symbol · fruit or tree or serpent or man
Connection to the coming of Christ · Adam is given instructions to tend to the garden and to eat of any tree except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A few verses later when God forms the first woman Eve, she is also placed in the garden and is under the same instructions about the tree. However, pretty soon the serpent comes along and plants doubt in Eve’s mind about what God said about eating the fruit of the tree of good and evil. She eats it and offers some to Adam, who also eats it. Consequently, they are both cast out of the garden and condemned to die an earthly death.
An old rhyme says, “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.” This means that when Adam ate the fruit, all mankind, like Adam, was sentenced to experience an earthly death. Happily, the story does not end here because God promises that one day a son of Eve will crush the head of the serpent with his heel.
Through the coming of Jesus, death will be defeated and mankind can once again be put into a right relationship with God. Jesus is the long-awaited son of Eve who will crush the serpent’s head with his heel, defeating death and trampling all enemies underfoot. As we see in 1 Corinthians 15, Christ is called the “last Adam” and is compared to the first Adam:
So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit…The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive…For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. · from 1 Corinthians 15:45, 47, 22-27 ·
THREE · the lamb of God ·
Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said,
“but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered,
“God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”
And the two of them went on together…Abraham looked up and
there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns.
He went over and took the ram and
sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.
Scripture · Genesis 22:7-8; 13-14
Symbol · a ram
Connection to the coming of Christ · When God calls Abraham to sacrifice his only son, the child born to him and Sarah in their old age, in faith, Abraham answers this calling but is spared from having to kill his precious son. Instead, God provides a lamb or ram to be killed in the place of Isaac. The lamb was substituted for the boy.
This passage in Genesis says that “God himself will provide the lamb.” Another translation arranges the words this way: “God will provide himself a lamb.” I like this translation better because that is exactly what God did: He provided himself a lamb—Himself as a lamb—His only son, Jesus, who is called the Lamb of God, and who was sacrificed in our place. The son was substituted for us and paid the price of our sins, a principle that becomes pretty in John 1:29 when John the Baptist spots Jesus walking toward him and proclaims, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
FOUR · stairway to heaven ·
[Jacob] had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth,
with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending
and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said:
“I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God Isaac…
Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth…
All people’s on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.”
Scripture · Genesis 28:12-14
Symbol · a ladder or Jacob’s ladder
Connection to the coming of Christ · Jacob has left home to seek a wife. He’s already bargained for a birthright and deceived for a blessing. He’s not necessarily leaving under the best circumstances. Even so, early in his journey, God speaks to him here in a dream and affirms to him that the promise of Abraham will be carried out Jacob’s own lineage—the promise for descendants too numerous to count and who will be a blessing to all the earth. In this dream, Jacob sees a ladder that connects heaven and earth, with angels going up and down on it.
The coming of Jesus means His coming down from Heaven to earth and providing Himself as the ladder or bridge or way for us to have access to Heaven. Jesus is the ladder between heaven and earth. He is the One who came from the line of Jacob and Abraham to bridge the gap between God and man as a blessing to all the earth.
FIVE · a better covenant ·
Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant,
then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.
Scripture · Exodus 19:5
Symbol · a stone and/or a heart or stone tablets
Connection to the coming of Christ · These words were spoken to the Israelites shortly before Moses went up on the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, which represent God’s covenant with Israel through the law. If the Israelites did follow God’s laws, then of the whole earth they would be considered God’s treasured possession. However, we know from the very start—even as Moses was receiving the first copy of the Ten Commandments—the people were struggling to keep the law. And they would continue to struggle right through the Old Testament.
But the law was not the only covenant God was to have with His people. In Ezekiel 36:26, the Lord says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel here is prophesying about the new covenant, about the time when God’s people will no longer have to rely on the law for salvation but will have a new covenant—what Hebrews 7:22 calls a better covenant.
Most of the book of Hebrews is an explanation about how Jesus came to replace the law and provide a better covenant. In fact, the word “better” is used a lot in Hebrews: Jesus is described not only as the better covenant but as the better sacrifice, the better offering, the better promise, the better hope, and the better word.
SIX · shepherd & king ·
“You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.”
Scripture · II Samuel 5:2
Symbol · a small green shoot or a stump
Connection to the coming of Christ · David, the youngest son of Jesse, was a shepherd who was selected as the future king of Israel after originally not even being in the running. When the prophet Samuel first informed Jesse that he would be coming to the meet family, Jesse rounded up all his other sons, and David was left in the fields. After Samuel met all the other sons and determined the Lord had not chosen any of them for kingship, everyone had to wait while David was fetched from the field to come the gathering!
While David did not get to take up the kingdom right then, he did eventually—after several years and many trials—become a long-ruling king of Israel and, in spite of some serious slip-ups, was generally regarded to be a good and wise and just and loving king.
Like David, Jesus is both a shepherd and king, and Scripture supports this dual role. In John 10:11, Jesus identifies Himself as a shepherd, saying, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” The kingship of Jesus is emphasized in Isaiah 9:6-7, a passage familiar to us this time of year, in which the governance of Jesus is outlined:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace, there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
SEVEN · the Savior ·
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby,
keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them,
and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.
I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths
and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared
with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
Scripture · Luke 2:8-14
Symbol · a star
Connection to the coming of Christ · Here the host of heaven appear in the night sky to announce the good news of Jesus’s birth to the shepherds, who, though terrified, act on receiving this news. They go and see, and then, upon seeing the newborn king, they go and tell.
This passage proclaims the actual coming of Jesus. He has come at last! And what will happen?
The fulfillment of the covenant and the fulfillment of the prophecies. The salvation of all people. The Prince of Peace. The good shepherd. The better covenant. The stairway to heaven. The lamb of God. The last Adam. The Branch of Jesse.
The Savior. He has come at last. And He’s come for us.
Glory to God in the highest!
in the Quiver