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‘O Clavis David’: The O Antiphon for December 20

O Clavis David

Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. | Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Fr. Jacob Bertrand Janczyk, OP - published on 12/20/19

The Church cries out in today’s O Antiphon for a savior who will destroy death and sin, and unlock for us the kingdom of heaven.
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;qui aperis, et nemo claudit;claudis, et nemo aperit:veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.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.

Salvation history recounts the battle between slavery and freedom. If we look at the story of creation in the book of Genesis, we see this reality present from the very first moments. When Adam and Eve chose to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, they believed that they were choosing something greater than what they were already given, when, in fact, they enslaved themselves to their disordered passions and desires.

Of course, we know the story of the Israelites’ captivity in Egypt and the story of Moses’ mission to free God’s people. We can think of the Israelites wandering for 40 years in the desert before reaching the Promised Land. And even after they reached the promised land, the Old Testament is full of battles, captivities, and oppression from foreign enemies, the Babylonians and later the Romans for example.

Though this battle between captivity and freedom is literal, it is also spiritual. Each physical enslavement is symbolic of the deeper reality of enslavement to sin. The whole existence of the Old Testament prophets was to make this point; to show that the captivity of God’s chosen people was a result of their infidelity to him.

And because of this battle between captivity and freedom, the heart of our expectation and hope is for perfect and everlasting freedom. Freedom, yes, from foreign enemies and captors, but, ultimately, freedom from slavery to sin. So, today, we cry out with the Church, “O Key of David …  come and lead the prisoners from the prison house!”

This O Antiphon, from Isaiah’s prophecy: “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open” (22:22), not only calls to mind Christ’s mission to free, but the Church’s, through him. Recall Christ’s words to Peter: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 16:18-19).

The Church cries out in today’s O Antiphon for a savior who will destroy death and sin, and unlock for us the kingdom of heaven. We pray for this because we are made for this, not to be trapped in sin, but to live with Christ in heaven, and to anticipate that life here and now.

On Christmas day in 440, St. Leo the Great preached to the faithful:

The Word of God, God the Son of God, who “in the beginning was with God, through whom all things were made and without whom was made nothing,” to free human beings from eternal death was himself made human.

Christ comes to save, to liberate, to free. Such is his mission, and he will fulfill it. Come, O Key of David!

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