O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven: come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.
The notion of a release from captivity and freedom for those in need of being set free continues to come through the O Antiphons, as it does throughout the Book of the prophet Isaiah. We reflected the other day, during the O Adonai antiphon, on the need we might have to be set free from ourselves in the limitations and divisions in which we find ourselves, in which, at times, we place ourselves. Today’s antiphon evokes for me a more external question of captivity, the need so many in our world have for release from powers outside their control.
It is interesting that the thing from which the people need release in this antiphon is death. It is both an existential part of who we are as human, limited and finite, but it is also something over which we have no individual or personal power or control. Like the return of the Lord, “we know neither the day nor the hour” that we will leave this world for the next. It can be scary and debilitating, but the Christian tradition offers us a different look at what it means to talk about death and what our relationship to that reality should be.
The holidays are a difficult time for people to think about death (then again, anytime is a difficult time to think about death), but it can also be a time, particularly at Christmas when we celebrate the Key of David‘s entrance into our world and lives to lead us all from captivity to freedom, from death to life.
So often many Christians like to associate the Lord’s freeing humanity from the captivity of death with the Passion and Resurrection. Surely this is understandable and is indeed a central tenet of our faith. However, it is Christmas that brings me most often face-to-face with the reality of our freedom brought by Christ in terms of life and death. I come to this realization by following in the footprints of St. Francis who has shown me by his own life, writings and the early stories by his brothers about him, that Christmas holds pride of place because the Incarnation itself provides the very condition for the possibility of Resurrection. As I reflected here a few months ago (“Francis and the Incarnation: Remember the Importance of Christmas“), the early Franciscan collection of recollections titled The Assisi Compilation portrays Francis’s own focus on the importance of the Incarnation celebrated at Christmas.
For blessed Francis held the Nativity of the Lord in greater reverence than any other of the Lord’s solemnities. For although the Lord may have accomplished our salvation in his other solemnities [i.e., Holy Week and Easter], nevertheless, once He was born to us, as blessed Francis would say, it was certain that we would be saved. On that day he wanted every Christian to rejoice in the Lord and, for love of Him who gave Himself to us, wished everyone to be cheerfully generous not only to the poor but also to the animals and birds (AC 14, emphasis added).
The “Key of David” is Christ the Lord who comes to unlock life eternal and help lead us onward on the path God destined us from all eternity: returning all creation back to God.