When we think of Christmas, and the season of Advent that anticipates it, many of us think of family. It is that strange mix of people we call mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, great grandparents, and even non-family members who aren’t blood related to us (but feel as though they could be).
For us who follow Jesus, the body of Christ is also our family, and that bond we experience in this season provides us with more than just a spiritual lineage. It provides us with a new family, bonded by love and faith in the covenant-keeping God of the universe. It provides us with a sense of enduring connection to the people and land of Israel. It provides us a sense of our place in God’s covenant story with humanity, weaving relentlessly through our personal and corporate histories—a story that reached its zenith in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus.
Each family member has roots that we call a family line. Each family member has roots that we call our family homeland. Each family member has roots that we call our heritage or family story.
Jesus also has a family story. And that story is what this book is all about. The following words are from “Jesus Rises from the Root of Jesse,” our first day’s reflection in our Advent Journey:
We all come from someone, somewhere, and something—a people, a place, and a story. We come from someone in our family line—parents, grandparents, great-
grandparents, and so many others form extensions of the root system from which we each descend. We come from somewhere, in that people are always physically located—we live in times and places unique to us, and even as we move from place to place we carry bits of our previous location with us in our hearts and memories. We come from something, in that we come from a story that is uniquely, remarkably, our own—while that story is also uniquely tied to our family line throughout history, and is ultimately tied to God’s great love story with humanity.
To understand Jesus, we would do well to discover the root of faith from which he springs. It is a spiritual root system, in fact, that both Isaiah 11:1–3 and Matthew 1:1–17 are eager to convey.
Jesus, the Lord and Master of our lives, had roots that included a family line, a homeland, and a heritage or story. In his case, his family line could be traced all the way back to a leader like King David and, more specifically, his father, Jesse. The prophetic words of Isaiah point to Jesus’ connection to Jesse, the father of David, and remind us just how important it was to the Hebrew people to understand the influences from the past that shaped one’s life in the present.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. (11:1–3)
Jesus not only had a family line that could be traced back to ancient times, but he also had a family homeland. The little strip of land we call Israel provided the ground Jesus walked on, yielded the fruits and foods he enjoyed, and hosted the towns and cities that dot the landscape of the Gospels and the New Testament. (I walked the streets of Bethlehem at night, many years ago, and found my imagination deeply stirred as I considered how, under those same skies so many revolutions of the sun ago, Jesus was born.)
Jesus not only had a family line and a family homeland; he also had a family story—a covenant heritage that brought together all the hopes and dreams of his people Israel into one, faith-bound narrative and guiding set of eternal truths. One need only to read through a few stories throughout the Scriptures to see that his people, the people of the covenant, are passionate, fallible, incredibly devoted, quick to tears, and as quick to laughter, hopeful yet capable of great despair, trusting yet capable of great disobedience, worshipful, yet capable of great idolatry.
Jesus himself carried those stories of his people, his place, and his story in his own heart. His life and ministry were absolutely, fundamentally built on the long, long story of humanity going back to Genesis.
Jesus has a family story, and Advent is the perfect time to explore it.
Entering Advent Together
When we as followers of Christ celebrate and worshipfully enter the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, the Day of Ascension, and the Day of Pentecost, we are orienting our time—the currency of our lives—around the light and life of Jesus.
On a daily basis and with our calendars close at hand, we dutifully check our schedules day in and day out, conscientiously planning work and social events, making space for personal and family gatherings, and engaging thoughtfully with holidays and periods dedicated to honoring cultural voices or themes.
Yet followers of Jesus are invited, even welcomed, to orient our minutes, hours, days, and years in a sacred, intentional way. We can orient our schedules around what God has done to save the world, engaging with Christ-centered seasons designed to help us re-tell and re-enter the stories of the Gospels—year after year—allowing those stories to more deeply enter us.
Church history calls this way of ordering repeated annual seasons around Christ the Christian Year. We like to call it, in the work of Seedbed, the Awakening Calendar.
In his insightful book, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year, the late Robert Webber said these words: “If we see the Christian year as an instrument through which we may be shaped by God’s saving events in Christ, then it is not the Christian year that accomplishes our spiritual pilgrimage but Christ himself who is the very content and meaning of the Christian year.” Believers over millennia have found these words to ring true.
Advent is the beginning of the Christian New Year, the Awakening Calendar, and leads us into an entire new year of orientation to the fullness of God’s work among us in the person of Jesus.
In celebrating Advent, Christ can meet us profoundly, as individuals and as communities, in dedicated seasons when we focus on an aspect, or an epic theme, of his world-loving story (John 3:16).
The journey we will take together this Advent, I trust and pray, will culminate in a deep joy for you on Christmas Day. Grace and peace to you as we enter Advent together—and as we explore the family story of Jesus.
It’s not too late to join our community in reading through the daily Roots: Advent and the Story of Jesus book. Containing 25 readings, this journey begins on December 1 and carries us through Christmas. It’s perfect for personal devotion, Sunday School classes, small groups, and even church-wide studies (learn more about that here). Get your copy from our store here.