CHRIST IS BORN!
Luke 2: 1-20
Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who Christians call Christ! For us it is the continuation of God’s care and love for us, shown from the beginning of the Bible. It is the culmination of God’s salvation story, not that there won’t be more people saved, but Jesus is the Savior! Although countless stories are read at this time that inspire the listeners—perhaps even to live better lives—there are few accounts of God’s salvation story that are better than those in the Bible. But with 39 books in the Old Testament, and 27 in the New Testament for a total of 66 books, how does one make a concise story of all that pointed to and led up to this day: that led up to the birth of Christ? One way is called “The Jesse Tree.” Some Christians have done what we have done with trees in our church: created Chrismons, Christ monograms, to adorn our tree during Advent and Christmas. Some people found Christmas trees to be more celebrative, but some are not distinctly Christian. Some thoughtful Christians, therefore, created what is called the “Jesse Tree.” Our Christian Educator, Mary Ann, created just such a tree in 2007 and gave our children home versions of it. Today you will get to hear—and see—the passages and symbols that show God’s irresistible grace, many of which point to Christ, especially on a day like Christmas. Let’s read our Bibles through the lens of the Jesse Tree today.
Once upon a time … at the beginning of time, God chose to create heaven and earth. It is recorded in Genesis chapter one. The Jesse Tree symbol is the sun. God, as we come to read, not only wanted creation to be wondrous and ordered; the pinnacle of creation was mortals; human beings, made in God’s image: man, woman: God’s masterpiece, in part, because God gave them (that is, us!) the ability to make moral choices; to not just act out of instinct as the animal world did, but to be able to choose between right or wrong. God did this knowing that the humans could choose their own way and not just God’s way. But it was a risk God took, because God wanted a relationship with and love returned from such mortals. We are reminded in Genesis chapter 3 of the story of Adam and Eve. The Jesse tree symbol is an apple. These first two created ones were the original ones to deflect responsibility that was rightfully theirs onto others when they did wrong. This is when the blame game started! It has been happening ever since. God saw that trouble was already brewing. In short order things went from bad to worse and God decided to start the world over, this time saving a faithful man: Noah, and his family. The Jesse Tree symbol is an ark. As you know it rained for 40 days and nights in Genesis 6 as Noah and his family continued to do what God asked. One of God’s first covenants was made with mortals using the sign of the rainbow. But God made even more promises after that. One was with Abraham in Genesis 12 and the Jesse Tree symbol is a tent. In Genesis God found a man, Abraham, who trusted him so much that he left his hometown and his family and his friends to travel to a land he had never seen or known simply because God said to do it. We imagine his wife Sarai had wished her husband had listened that closely toher requests and less closely to God’s, but Abraham’s ears were tuned heavenward! God said that because of Abraham’s trust, he would have more descendents than there were stars in the sky. Then in a supreme test of trust, symbolized on the Jesse Tree by a ram, Genesis 22 records the time that God showed Abraham that the child-sacrificing ways of the Canaanites who used to populate that land were passed, and God showed a supreme act to honor Abraham’s trust: a ram was provided for a sacrificial meal and the boy was spared. It was a test that makes most of us shudder. The son Isaac later marries and has two sons, Jacob and Esau, but through a series of tricks, Isaac blesses the younger son, Jacob. Jacob had not earned the blessing that he had received from his father, but there was a time, recorded in Genesis 27, when Jacob wrestled with an angel of God until God’s blessed him. The ladder is the Jesse Tree symbol. How important it is for us to feel blessed! Jacob himself had many sons, but he was not the best parent. He made it known that he liked his youngest one best! It is recorded in Genesis 37. Joseph was spoiled and his father gave him a coat of many colors. The Jesse Tree symbol is a coat! Later his jealous brothers sold him to Ishmaelites going to Egypt. Joseph grew to be respected by Pharaoh, later forgiving and saving his brothers. God continued to try to save others who were slaves under the Egyptian pharaoh. God chose Moses to be his leader in Exodus 3 and the Jesse Tree symbol is a burning bush. Moses tried to protest, but when God calls, it is hard to resist. God’s first deliverer had been chosen. Later God showed the wideness of holy mercy with the story of Ruth. The Jesse Tree symbol is a heart, one that connected Ruth to Boaz, whom she married. They had a son, whom they named Obed. Guess who he was the father of? Jesse! Later the prophet Isaiah in chapter 11 said “A shoot will spring forth from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Most people think Isaiah was talking about Jesus! And it starts to fit together when Jesse also had a son, and guess who he was: David! And the Messiah came from David’s lineage! And guess who was in his line? Joseph, the man who agreed to adopt Jesus as his own son and be wed to Mary! But I’m getting ahead of myself! God had some wonderfully faithful people leading up to Isaiah. One of them was Samuel, symbolized on the Jesse Tree with a lamp. His story is in 1 Samuel. He listened to God call him to service. Another servant of the Lord that I mentioned was David, the shepherd king who is credited with writing many of the Psalms, the songbook of the Bible. His story also begins in 1 Samuel. He is symbolized on the Jesse Tree by a harp. Another great leader of God’s was David’s son, King Solomon, who is symbolized by a crown on our tree. His story begins in 1 Kings. One of the great prophets was Elisha, the very productive successor of the prophet Elijah. Elisha is symbolized on the Jesse Tree by a dove and his story begins in 2 Kings. And then we finally recognize the prophet Isaiah, who talked about a coming Messianic King so much; Isaiah is symbolized by a rose and his story is in the book named after him. A young prophet, sometimes called the weeping prophet, who proclaimed that God would make a new covenant with his people, was Jeremiah. His symbol is the Word of God. His story is also in the book named after him. But we must not forget Nehemiah, another man of God; he is famous for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and instituting social reforms. God honored Nehemiah for that and his symbol is the Temple and his story is in Nehemiah! God also honored some priests over the years that had visions of God’s glory, and one of them was Ezekiel; his symbol is a wheel, t
aken from the dream in the book of Ezekiel in which he saw a wheel and God in Heavenly glory! It was spectacular! There were more fantastic stories of faithful people too, including Daniel, symbolized by a lion, and we know why, don’t we? Daniel had survived being in a lion’s den because he trusted in God. It was an amazing story in the book named for him! Unfortunately God had some prophets that tried to run away as well, the most famous one was Jonah. His symbol, of course, is a whale!
As we cross over to the New Testament, we find one of the people who pointed to Jesus better than anyone else! His name was John, and he’s known as “the Baptist.” His symbol is a baptismal shell and he’s described in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John! He had people trying to follow him, but with the integrity that God honored eternally, John said he was not the light of the world or the Christ, but he would show people who was. And he did! He pointed to Jesus, and called him “the lamb of God.” That title was both an honor and a burden: it foreshadowed Jesus’ later death. But God’s plans for Jesus to be born to save would never have been completed had he not found, and had the consent of, a young pure, virgin girl named Mary. Mary was God’s choice to bear his Son. She must have had a wonderful heart, and a good spirit, but also a steadfast faith. Her symbol on the Jesse Tree is a lily and her story is in Luke. As I said earlier, the pieces of the Old Testament puzzle would not have fit together if a man from David’s lineage, Joseph, hadn’t been chosen to be Mary’s husband! And he agreed to these extraordinary circumstances! His Jesse Tree symbol is a saw since he was a carpenter and his story is in Matthew and Luke. Mary and Joseph made the journey and the arrangements described in Luke chapter two. It must have been terribly difficult on them to make a journey of more than 7 days, with crowds on all the main roads going to their hometowns for the census. Mary certainly didn’t know exactly when she would have her baby, but she knew it would be soon! Likely she was very tired and uncomfortable. And the Bible tells us where he was born, doesn’t it: in a manger! Jesus was indeed born in the town of Bethlehem according to Luke chapter 2. And his Jesse Tree symbol is a manger! To some it might have just been an inconvenient birth. But to certain shepherds, to angels, to wise men, and to Mary and Joseph, they knew he was more than a newborn child: he was a newborn King! There were wise men, also called Magi, on their way to see the King! They knew he was going to be born! They had seen it in the stars and their symbol is, therefore, a star. Their story is in Matthew. “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?” they asked Herod. It must have rankled Herod, who already was king, to hear such a question! But by that time Jesus had already been born. Jesus was what the New Testament calls “Christos” or Christ; what the Old Testament called “Messiah.” The Gospel of John describes him. The Jesse Tree symbol is the chi-rho, the monogram for Christ. He was the one to change the world. And he has. No other one born on earth has affected the world as much as that one solitary life. May the celebration of his birth today fill you with faith, hope, and love. God came to us as a Savior! His name is Jesus. And he will rule the new world with truth and grace! What a gift! Thanks be to God!
Jeffrey A. Sumner December 25, 2011