4. O Key of David- O Clavis David

KeyO Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Have you ever been locked out? I have. Sat on the doorstep, feeling foolish and self-conscious as strangers walk past. Utterly relieved when a key holder comes to the rescue and opens the door.

It’s little wonder why a key was such a symbol of authority in ancient Israel. Equalling the significance of a sceptre, it was displayed proudly at state occasions. It conveyed royal authority.

The text from this antiphon is almost exactly pulled straight out of Isaiah 22:22 and 42:7.

‘The key of the house of David
I will lay on his shoulder;
So he shall open, and no one shall shut;
And he shall shut, and no one shall open.’ Isaiah 22:22

‘[I have given you]…to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.’ Isaiah 42:7

These texts capture the Israelites’ longing for another great king like David to restore Israel to its former glory. Drawing from this Messianic passage, the book of Revelation has the same text as Isaiah 22:22 but applies it to Jesus, he has the key of David.

Today’s antiphon develops this phrase by address Jesus as the Key of David. He doesn’t just possess authority, he is this royal authority. He is the means by which captives will be released.

What are we captive to?

The buy-chuck-buy conveyer belt of consumerism.

Fear of missing out.

Crippling self-loathing.

Comparison leading to resentment.

We are all captive to sin.

Jesus as the Key of David can loose us from this sin.

By addressing Jesus as the Key of David we are looking forward to Good Friday; death on the cross, blood spilt, our Paschal lamb. Blood shed for many so that we might be spared from the shadow of death.

Jesus as the Key of David leads out the prisoners of darkness. In 1 Peter 3:19 we read how he entered the depths of hell to minster to those held there. Jesus entered so fully into our humanity that he travelled to the final consequence of our sin, a full and total separation from God. As a searching for a lost sheep he entered into our suffering and pain in order to redeem it.

What are you being held captive by? The image in Isaiah 42:7 is one of imprisonment but also of darkness. If you are in the depths, know that Jesus has travelled there to rescue you.

Today we pray to Jesus, the Key of David- what he opens, no one can shut.

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.


*** The majority of my reading around these Antiphons has been from William Marshall’s book,  O Come Emmanuel: Devotional Study of the Advent Antiphons. It’s been an invaluable resource. If you’d like to read more about the root and symbolism behind these great prayers do hunt for a copy.***

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