The Jesse Tree: An Interactive Worship Service based on Matthew 1:1-17

This week was supposed to be an “easy” week — a week off from the hard work of worship preparation, a week to relax (during Advent – HA!) and let the Children’s Christmas program do all the work — at least at the first church.  I figured I would muddle my way through with the second church on the charge.  But then I got inspired…

We need to tell and re-tell our stories. In Atlanta, a local Lutheran church celebrated an Easter vigil each year in which they shared the narratives of faith through drama, art, music, and story-telling… what a vision of God they shared!  And yet so many Christians–even adult Christians–do not know the stories of our faith.  There were two kingdoms, Israel and Judah?  God made a promise to David?  Who was King Josiah?  Isaiah wasn’t talking about Jesus?  Why were there two temples?

Inspired by Matthew 1:1-17, I put together a worship service for Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (order of worship below).  During our adult Bible study on Wednesday, we made fourteen circle ornaments, fourteen crown ornaments, and fourteen star ornaments.  We put on them the names of the ancestors of Jesus (according to Matthew).  We will hand out all of the ornaments at the beginning of the service (there are usually twenty people in worship, so each person will receive two).  During the reading of Matthew 1:1-17, when people hear their name read, they will go forward and hang the ornament on the Christmas tree/Jesse Tree.

(We used this public domain picture from Wikimedia Commons on the front of the bulletin, along with this description:  THE STORY OF THE JESSE TREE – During the Middle Ages, Christians created art to communicate our faith stories.  One of the pictures they created used Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,” the father of King David. Jesse is usually shown asleep at the bottom of the picture (like a tree stump), with a branch growing out of him to show the Biblical characters who were ancestors of Jesus. Many of them have crowns on their heads because they were kings.  At the top of the tree is Mary holding Jesus, the flower from Jesse’s tree).

At certain points in the genealogy, I’ll say, “Now let me tell you the story of [insert name here]…”  Using Ralph Milton’s excellent The Family Story Bible as a guide, I am re-telling and condensing seven key stories in Israel’s history.  Milton’s stories cover only half of the ones I want to tell, and they’re each double the the length of what I want — but the example of how to boil a story down to its essentials and yet add details enough to be interesting is a huge gift of Milton.  My goal is 200 words to each of the seven stories… that word count is hard enough, but not as hard as narrowing the number of stories to seven!  I’d love to do this service again and use some of the other stories from Matthew’s genealogy (Jacob, Rahab, Solomon, and Josiah top that list of “if only we had time”).

  • Purpose #1: to increase Biblical literacy by reviewing Biblical history prior to the birth of Christ
  • Purpose #2: to engage people of all ages, particularly children, in worship (since the other church is doing a Christmas pageant)
  • Purpose #3: to learn the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

Although the church I serve has a tradition of lighting an Advent wreath, we did not know any Advent hymns prior to this year.  The new hymns we are learning this year are “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “Prepare the Way of the Lord.”  We’ve sung both of them (my original plan with “O Come” was to do two verses a week), but this service has the secondary goal of reinforcing theses hymns and illustrating some of the Biblical references in the lyrics (e.g., “What is exile?”).

Third Sunday of Advent: Rejoice!

An Interactive Worship Service based on Matthew 1

December 11, 2011


*Lighting of Candles on the Altar
Greeting & Announcements
*Hymn #207…..……….“Prepare the Way of the Lord”
*Passing the Peace
Prayers of the People – After each prayer, please pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.” 
We Give God Our Tithes & Offerings
*Doxology #236: “While Shepherds Watched” (v.6) – “All glory be to God on high, and to the earth be peace; good will hence-forth from heaven to earth begin and never cease, begin and never cease”


Matthew 1:1-17 (see insert – Matthew 1:1-17 in the New International Reader’s Version)
All are invited to say, “was the father of”

The Story of Abraham and Sarah – based on Genesis 12:1-9; 13:14-18; 17-18:19; 21:1-7
Hymn #211           …“O Come, Desire of Nations” (verse 7)

The Story of Nahshon, Aaron, and Moses – based on Exodus and Numbers 1:1-16, 2:1-9, 7:1-17
Hymn #211           ……“O Come, Great Lord of Might” (v. 3)

The Story of Ruth and Naomi – based on Ruth 1-4
Hymn #211           …………“O Come, Thou Dayspring” (v. 6)

The Story of Jesse’s Children – based on 1 Samuel 16:1-13 and 2 Samuel 7
Hymn #211…..…“O Come, Thou Key of David” (v. 5)

The Story of King Manasseh and King Jeconiah –  based on 2 Kings 21:1-18, 24:8-16, 25:27-30
Hymn #211           ……“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (v. 1)

The Story of Zerubbabel – based on Ezra 1:1-3, 2:1-2, 3:2-13; Haggai 1:1, 14; 2:4-5, 21-23; Zechariah 4:6-10
Hymn #211…..…..……“O Come, Thou Wisdom” (v. 2)

The Story of Joseph and Mary – based on Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38
Hymn #211..……“O Come, Thou Root of Jesse” (v. 4)


There were fourteen generations from Abraham to David …
Lighting the 1st Candle (Purple, for royalty)

There were fourteen generations from David until the Jewish people were forced to go away in exile to Babylon….
Lighting the 2nd Candle (Purple, for royalty)

And there were fourteen generations from that time to the Messiah, the Christ…
Lighting the 3rd Candle (Pink, for “Rejoice!”)


*Hymn #207………….“Prepare the Way of the Lord”


If you use this or adapt this in your own setting, please let me know through comments or e-mail!
I would love feedback!

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The Jesse Tree: An Interactive Worship Service Based on Matthew 1:1-17 by Diane Kenaston is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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17 Responses to The Jesse Tree: An Interactive Worship Service based on Matthew 1:1-17

  1. ramona says:

    I love the Jesse Tree concept and really like your take on it. I agree, we need to tell the grand narrative over and over – to many people are unfamiliar with it.

    Thanks for permission to use it in my own context. I don’t know if I will this year – but I will hold on to it for future use!

    • La Peregrina says:

      Thanks, Ramona! I have a huge file of inspiration from other RevGalBlogPals, and I’m happy to contribute a little as well 🙂

      I found lots of “Jesse Tree” instructions online (some through textweek), but they seemed to be designed as daily family devotionals (start on Day 1 of Advent and go through Christmas Day), or as “once a week during children’s sermon” worship components that didn’t have as much grounding in the genealogies of Jesus (ignoring Luke for this year) as I’d like.

      And I didn’t really want to preach on John the Baptist two weeks in a row 🙂

  2. Absolutely wonderful! I have put it on my calendar for October 2012 to come back here to look at this again. Expect an email in about a year to let you know I will use it with all credit given. It is WONDERFUL!!!

    • La Peregrina says:

      Thanks, She Rev! And let me know how it goes if you modify it next year — I’m always open to being perfected 🙂 I’ll update the post if I run into any glitches or think of a better way to do things tomorrow!

  3. Lovely idea! I think the catechistic approach to worship is fantastic. I hope it went smoothly (and I hope that O Come, O Come Emmanuel becomes their new and favorite Advent hymn!). Blessings this Advent!

    • La Peregrina says:

      Thanks, Kimberly! We don’t usually have a postlude, but yesterday the pianist played “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” as a postlude while I greeted people… I take that as a good sign!

      I wouldn’t do a catechistic approach to worship on a weekly basis, but every so often it is important to do. Speaking of which, the worship team has talked about doing a worship service explaining various aspects of worship (e.g., “why do we stand for the gospel?” “why do we pass the peace?”)… do you know any good resources for this?

  4. What a wonderful service you have put together. I would like to let you know that I plan on using this service during the 56th Annual Church Music Workshop that is being sponsored by the Florida Chapter of the Fellowship of United Methodists in Music & Worship Arts. Our workshop will be held from Sunday, July 15th, through Friday, July 20th, at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. This service will be used to begin our workshop week. Our theme is Celebrate Our Journey: The Seasons of Faith and we will be walking through the liturgical year. Thank you again for this wonderful resource.

    • La Peregrina says:

      Thanks, Joan! Please let me know how it goes. I would also be interested in the other worship services that you highlight that week!

      I graduated from Candler School of Theology last year and so many of my fellow seminarians were graduates of Florida Southern College. I hope that you all have a wonderful time of sharing and worship there!

  5. Tracey L. Taylor-Kunst says:

    This is great. I want to adapt it for our Christmas Eve Family Service at our UCC congregation.

  6. Would you be willing to share your 200 words or less summaries? I’m working to adapt this for a children’s Christmas program and that would be a helpful step. This service is a wonderful idea!

    • La Peregrina says:

      Glad to hear it! I will email it to you this week.

      • jlhpastor says:

        I am looking at including a Jesse-tree based worship during Advent this year (probably the second Sunday since that is where the lectionary has the Isaiah 11 reference). If you are willing to send the 200-word summaries, I would love to take a look at them as well. Thanks for sharing this idea!

  7. pastor2youth says:

    Would you be willing to email that to me as well. I LOVE this concept and service you have put together, and thank you SO much for sharing it and letting us use it in our context. I would greatly appreciate the 200 words or less summaries that you created. Thank you!!!

  8. Amy Walters LaCroix says:

    I love this service. I am adapting it to use at an outdoor camp and conference center next week. We are having to cut down (due to disease) a very very old and very tall tree that has been a beloved symbol for generations of youth throughout the years. She is named Methuselah. There is much sadness. I am in charge of creating a worship service that honors and makes room for the grief while offering a sense of hope for new life. Your service will be a perfect foundation to build on. Thanks!

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