Who tells your story?
In the finale of the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton, the cast comes together one last time to ask an all important question, “Who tells your story?” This question has captured my heart and mind this Advent season and wondering about it has led me down an unexpected path.
As I considered what practice to pick up to help focus my mind and heart on the coming mystery of Christmas, and what practice to offer up to you this strange Advent season, I found myself drawn the idea of the “Jesse Tree.”
The “Jesse Tree” is an ancient form of Christian art depicting the ancestry of Christ in the form of a tree. Its name is drawn from a prophecy offered up in the book of Isaiah,
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
Jesse was the father of King David, and Jesus’ lineage is traced back to him in both Matthew and Luke’s Gospels. Both Gospels extend Jesus’ lineage even farther, with Luke’s genealogy taking Jesus’ lineage back all the way to Adam at the moment of creation.
Thus the “Jesse Tree” also invites us into a bigger story, an epic story that spans generations. It invites us to see and experience the miracle of Christ’s coming not simply from the vantage point of Christmas, but across the sweep of history and even back into pre-history. At the same time, the “Jesse Tree” invites us to live deeply into the stories of those perched on its branches. To hear the familiar tales of men like Adam, Noah, Abraham, and David, and to wonder at God’s love and grace as their stories reveal God’s presence on each and every branch of the tree.
And yet, even as a I wondered at God’s loving presence on each branch of the traditional “Jesse Tree,” I found myself wondering if I was only hearing half the story. Because apart from the four women mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel, the “Jesse Tree” is populated wholly by men. As I dwelt on this reality, I began to think about them, these unnamed women spanning the generations from Creation to Christmas and I found myself asking, “Who tells their story?”
Who tells the story of Eve? Or of Sarah? What about, Bathsheba, whom the Gospel writer was only willing to acknowledge as “wife of Uriah?” Who tells their stories, and the stories of all the other woman who also make up the branches of this Great Tree?
As I thought about these woman, these unnamed, unacknowledged women, I realized how important it was to hear their stories. Because their stories matter. These woman, these brave, holy, broken women matter. Hearing their stories invites us to see God in a different light. Their stories invite us to gaze at the Great Tree from another angle, to see the light shining through the branches from a different vantage point. The light is the same, but the different way in which we perceive it as it shines through these other branches invites us into a new experience with God.
And so, after many weeks of wondering and walking with these women, I offer up to you this Advent season, a new Jesse Tree, or perhaps better named a “Nitzevet Tree.”
Nitzevet, the wife of Jesse, the mother of David, and the ancestor of Christ, whose story too, deserves to be told.
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