I can recall the first time I ever learned about the Jesse Tree. It was early days in my walk in the Episcopal Church, and I was learning about the difference between Advent and Christmas. At St. Cuthbert, when it is was still housed in temporary metal buildings near Bear Creek, during Advent we created Jesse Tree ornaments tracing the lineage of Jesus through the Hebrew Scripture.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel, is also a journey through the Scripture Jesus would have known, read, studied, and loved. Each verse has ties to the First Testament, and if those passages were important enough for Jesus to know, read, study, and love, they are for us, too.
Jesse’s Tree in the hymn connects Jesus to his ancestors, those cloud of witnesses that were part of who he became. Ruth married Boaz, and they had a son named Obed. Obed had a son named Jesse, and one of Jesse’s sons was David, who became King and was the fixed hope of the Jews for the coming Messiah, who Jesus is.
At this time of year, most, if not all of us, feel connections to those we love and see no more. For some, this grief is still so sharp that this season brings more pain than joy. We sing today, as the antiphon for Mary’s song of the world being turned right side up again by the son she will bear, that we carry our sorrows, but not as those who have no hope. Today as we sing, we pray for the trust to know that in God there are no longer graves but a new birth and a life after we die. For some, this may be at best a small comfort, but it is truth.
So we have the courage to sing: