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On Stir-up Sunday, Christianity’s debt to Judaism

WITH anti-Semitism a worsening blight on Britain, the Prayer Book ‘For the Epistle’ reading for today, the last Sunday before Advent, is a powerful reminder that the Saviour of the world is the ultimate Davidic King.

Normally, the Epistle reading is from the New Testament, but in the run-up to Advent Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), the theological genius behind the Book of Common Prayer, chose a passage from the Old Testament book of the prophet Jeremiah:

‘Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, The Lord Our Righteousness. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say, The Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land’ (Jeremiah 23v5-8 – King James Version).

Jeremiah probably spoke this Messianic prophecy in Jerusalem in 597 BC during the brief reign of the 18-year-old King Jehoiachin of Judah. His three-month reign came to an end when he surrendered to King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon who had been besieging Jerusalem.  The conqueror took the young Jewish king captive to Babylon along with the Jerusalem elite leaving a puppet king, Zedekiah, in charge of a denuded kingdom.

Jeremiah chapter 22 records the Lord addressing Jehoiachin directly through his prophet: ‘And I will give thee into the hand of them that seek thy life, and into the hand of them whose face thou fearest, even into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon’ (v25).

The exile of this defeated Jewish king, a descendant of Israel’s greatest king, David, who reigned in the 10th century BC, is thus the context for this wonderful prophecy of a future King from David’s line who ‘shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth’.

It is significant that Jeremiah calls this Davidic King ‘a righteous Branch’.  In chapter 2 of his prophecy Jeremiah had compared God’s chosen people Israel to a ‘noble vine, wholly a right seed’. ‘How then art thou turned into a degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?’ the Lord asked his people through his prophet (v21).

The righteous Branch whom the Lord will raise up will make God’s people a fruitful vine once again. The Messiah will bring salvation.

This prophecy, which Cranmer included just before Christians begin the season of Advent when they focus on Jesus Christ’s glorious Second Coming as the culmination of world history, is powerfully resonant. Born as a descendant of David, Jesus, already ruling the universe at the right hand of God the Father Almighty as the risen and ascended King, shall execute judgment and justice in the earth when he returns to the world in power and great glory.

This hope is rooted in the Old Testament, demonstrating clearly Christianity’s debt to Judaism. British Christians should therefore be alarmed at the atmosphere of fear in which their Jewish compatriots are having to live since the October 7 Hamas terror atrocities in southern Israel. Even before that terrible day, the intimidation of Jews was already evident in Britain, as I observed on this site in May 2021.  

I wrote then: ‘The cultural crisis for British Jews is exacerbated by the political establishment’s tendency to treat Israel and the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip as moral equivalents. This neutrality, which is actually a symptom of moral relativism, serves to foment anti-Semitism by giving houseroom to a movement that is hell-bent on destroying Israel.’

The Collect for today gave the name to ‘Stir-up Sunday’, which has become associated with the traditional English practice of stirring Christmas puddings the week before the Advent season begins. But Cranmer, whilst he enjoyed a good dinner, clearly had Jeremiah’s righteous Branch in mind and intended it as a prayer that the Lord’s Christian people would be fruitful in good works:

‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.’

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