The O Antiphons are a series of chants traditionally used across the final seven days of Advent. Each one is based on a particular characteristic of Jesus; the chant for 20th December is called O Clavis David, or O Key of David; you can hear it sung below.
We stumble towards the end of 2020, this apocalyptic year that has unveiled so many things, that has dragged so much racism and fear and inequality and authoritarianism and Othering into the open. And we look at it, hoping that exposure will cause these terrible things to shrivel and die, but too often their roots get stronger, they feed off the attention and grow. We inhale their spores and bad things start to grow in our hearts.
In today’s O Antiphon, the Key symbolises authority, not just the trappings of royalty or the speeches of leaders or the jangling duties of the prison warden. The Key of David is also spiritual authority, and when Jesus talks about this key to Peter, he does so in a town where, it was said, the fallen angels came to Earth millennia before, he does so in a world in which so many powers and principalities, spirits and systems, habits and heartbreak seek to keep us captive, to wrap us in chains like Marley’s Ghost.
Jesus is born into this world, his birth heralding a prison break. Thirty years beyond the manger he makes that clear when he uses the words of a prophet to make his mission clear: “I’ve come to bring good news to the poor. I’ve come to bring freedom for the oppressed. I’ve come to set the prisoners free.” Imagine a skeleton key hanging from his belt; imagine hope and liberation; imagine the cries of a child harmonising into a freedom song. And imagine, on being freed, looking at the keys we’ve used to imprison others, imagine feeling the weight of that, imagine Jesus pointing us towards the prison doors at which we’ve served as the jailer, imagine the click of the lock as we move to release others in the light of the grace we’ve been given.