Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel, that opens and no man shuts, and shuts and no man opens, come to liberate the prisoner from the prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
Today's Antiphon takes us to another place that most people would sooner not be: prison. Prisons are not, understandably, very happy or inviting places and it might seem odd to approach them at a time when the world is highlighting the joy of Christmas (and of Christmas giving!), but that is Advent for you. Advent is not a feast, but, rather, a time of waiting and reflection as we wait for the coming of Jesus into this world. Besides, wasn't this part of Jesus' first proclamation about himself at Nazareth that
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed
me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me
to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight
for the blind, to release the oppressed; to proclaim the
year of the Lord's favour" (Luke, 16-19
The Key of David we see here is just another one of those signs for Jesus as a Savior of all, not just for me or the members of my church or even just Christians. The Advent of God has a real impact on the world around us and it is a powerful one because we are promised that this Key of David (Jesus) can open what nothing else will (and close it!). In fact, that degree of power should unsettle us a bit. One might be forgiven for worrying that this power will be used to exclude not to include. That fear has some reason because all too frequently the image of keys (usually, Peter's) is used to exclude those we consider are damned or who are outsiders. Yet, aren't keys also used to open up, to include people? Does it, rather, rest with the kind of person who uses the keys whether keys open or close? In some ways, the real question about this image isn't the key, but the kind of God who wields them. If we believe in a harsh and judgmental God, the Key of David threaten our exclusion. If we believe in a loving and forgiving God, these Key invites our inclusion. And I would suggest that, if we take seriously the imagery in this Antiphon, we mean the latter use of the keys.
After all, these keys aren't being used to lock up those in prison, but rather to release them. The Clavis David lead out those sitting in this prison, away from the shadows and into the light. What's more, these captives are not so much prisoners as people who are bound by we know not what and for reasons unknown to us. There are many ways to be bound and to feel that we are held captive. Perhaps we are in a literal prison. Perhaps we are imprisoned in an unhappy situation, or imprisoned by habits and compulsions beyond our control to break away from. Perhaps our grief is imprisoning us. I don't know. Yet, what we have in this Antiphon is a promise of release; that, somehow, someone will lead us away from our prisons, that somehow there is hope for us captives.
So, we're back to hope again, which makes sense. One of the things I like most about Advent and these Antiphons in general, is that they look forward to a hope that is not just an easy "look[ing] on the bright side of life" rightly satirized by Monty Python, but a hope which looks at the difficult things in life, but which believes that redemption and salvation are coming. That makes for a tougher-minded hope and an infinitely more resilient and practical one.