Waiting has never been easy, but since the advent of microwaves, computers and express lanes, the need to practice patience on a regular basis has been seriously diminished. Therefore, as we enter Advent, a degree of intentionality is in order if we are to focus on the process rather than the end-result, which, of course, is the celebration of Christ’s birth.
Liturgically, we’ve been given tools to help navigate the days in a meaningful fashion. Advent wreathes and Advent calendars invite us to ponder the process as we prepare for Christmas by moving prayerfully through the days and weeks that lead to the holiest night of the year.
Not surprisingly, the retail industry has capitalized on the phenomenon as well by selling Advent calendars. Attempting to satisfy the unbridled excitement of children while they continue the countdown to Christmas, a piece of chocolate is hidden in the pocket for each day prior to the big day. It’s not just children whose palate needs to be rewarded – as evidenced by a display of Advent cheese calendars that I noticed in a recent trip to the grocery store.
There seems to be no end to the creativity by the commercially savvy when it comes to cashing in on the season. Elf on the Shelf and photos with Santa are not only economically expedient, but they heighten excitement and encourage spending prior to the season.
Anyone looking to counter the growing commercialization of Christmas might consider another Advent tool — the Jesse Tree. Although its popularity seems to have fallen by the wayside, it’s a timely teaching tool and activity for families with children, though even oldsters can benefit from it.
Rather than accelerating the practice of decorating for Christmas weeks in advance, why not opt for a small, shapely tree branch, dry or evergreen, to decorate with symbols that portray the spiritual heritage of Jesus?
Place the branch — about 2-3 feet tall — in a pot of earth, followed by a Google search that will take you to images that symbolize stories in the Bible that paved the way for the coming of the Messiah. The images can be printed or duplicated, or you may choose to create your own symbol to represent the Old Testament event.
Either way, decorating a Jesse tree can be a meaningful way to spend time with family, a spouse or even alone, and it’s guaranteed not to contribute to a sugar or cholesterol high.
Since people are shopping online more and spending more time at home because of the pandemic, this may be the perfect year to begin a new tradition. It’ll make the waiting more enjoyable while spiritually preparing all involved to be more mindful of the reason for the season.
Decorating a Jesse Tree is a wonderful way to get to know the people upon whose shoulders Christianity stands. People like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and David. More than ever, we need to echo the prayer of Solomon and ask for wisdom for our leaders while reflecting on the lives of the prophets, who challenged the people to remain faithful while they waited for deliverance.
The Hebrew saints prepared the Israelites for the coming of Christ first through the Law of Moses, the kings and prophets, Elizabeth, Zechariah and, finally, through Mary. We are called to do the same.
Although times have changed, people have not, making our journey not so different from the journey of the Israelites. We live in anticipation of what is to come even as we continue the pilgrimage that takes us from exile to the promised land.
Their story is our story, though we have the advantage of knowing how the story ends. We know that Christ has come, that Christ is with us and that Christ will come again. That should put a song in our heart and a prayer on our lips as we journey toward Christ’s coming this year.
When we consider how long the Jews waited for the Messiah, four weeks of Advent is minuscule by comparison. The Good News is that we get to celebrate Advent every year, reminding us that preparation is important and is ongoing.
Mindful of the journey at hand, let’s make the most of every day lest we’re caught off guard with our spiritual-to-do-list unfinished. We can begin by making this Advent the best one ever by ensuring the journey toward Christmas is lived purposefully and prayerfully.
Confident that the Strong Branch of Jesse’s Tree lights our way, let’s begin Advent with voices raised as we pray: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”