How well do you know stories of your ancestors?

I go back five generations in this land, on each side of my family, but what came before that is pretty hazy for us. I know that one of my sets of great-great-grandparents farmed what is now the suburb of Northland in Wellington. I know that one ancestor who emigrated from England was a French polisher, according to census data.

I don’t know a great deal more about those generations who were brave or desperate enough to leave Britain on wooden ships and sail to the far side of the world. So I’ve always been in awe of people who can recite their whakapapa, their family tree, back for generations.

We’re coming up to Christmas time (you may have noticed the carols in the shops!), when we traditionally remember the beginning of Jesus’ life on our planet, born as a wrinkly bubba in the backwoods of the wop-wops.

Matthew begins his account of Jesus’ life by putting it in context of his whakapapa. He gives a symbolically patterned genealogy stretching back to Abraham, showing that Jesus’ arrival fits in with God’s whole plan for Israel and the world beyond.

Luke goes back even further, giving a full whakapapa back to Adam, and God.

Both are saying to their original readers: ‘Look! This isn’t out of the blue. It’s been a long time in the planning. God’s long-awaited blueprint for a better world is finally being rolled out!’

Many Christian churches start the countdown to Christmas four weeks before, with a season called ‘Advent.’ We get ready to celebrate Jesus, reminding ourselves of the bigger plan he is a part of, and of how much the world was anticipating him even before Mary was waddling around with swollen ankles.

A ‘Jesse Tree’ is a creative way of finding how Jesus fits in to the Big Story of the Bible.  It’s an Advent idea for anyone (but especially households with kids) who wants to take the focus off Santa and presents and hear a bit about some of Jesus’ earthly ancestors.

For each day of Advent there’s another branch in the family tree, starting with Adam and Eve and going through Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Rahab, Ruth, David – heaps of the flawed heroes of the Hebrew Bible.  You can use the Jesse Tree idea in lots of ways. You could:

For a beginner’s guide to Jesse Trees, with heaps of resources for making the trees, or just reading the stories, check out resource sites herehere and here.  Maybe this is a year to start a new tradition in your house?

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Thalia Kehoe Rowden began 2011 as the minister of West Baptist Church in New Plymouth and ended it as the mother of a charming newborn baby. She's also an awesome parallel parker, a wannabe runner and enthusiastic but rubbish at gardening. She blogs at Kiwi Families on the spiritual practice of parenthood: listening to God as we parent our children, hearing God's voice through them and through the delights and despairs of bringing them up. Thalia also blogs at www.sacraparental.com

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[…] a remarkable film, and my pick for best movie to watch during Advent. Add it to carols, presents, the Jesse Tree and feasting, as something that can help us to connect to the Big Story we are invited to find […]

[…] Jesse Tree (a bit too hard-out for me at this point), follow the links on the West blog, and see my article on Jesse Trees at Kiwi […]

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