Keys have both practical and symbolic significance. At a practical level, keys represent freedom to come and go. At a symbolic level, keys represent an additional authority conferred upon the key-holder.
There came a time when I was allowed to take a set of house-keys if I was going out on my own. (This marks a progression of freedom, as previously I had been allowed to go out on my own, but was dependent on someone being at home to let me back in.) But there came a later time when I was given a set of keys of my own. Then I was free to come and go as I chose. Of course, if I was out late this did not stop my parents from staying up until I got in.
The fourth Advent Antiphon is ‘O Clavis David’ or ‘O Key of David.’ Advent is not only about preparing to celebrate Jesus’ coming as a baby, but – and primarily – about preparing ourselves for his return. Jesus is an adult, a key-holder; and though we are not his parents, like my parents when I was younger we wait for his return, not knowing when it will be, but knowing that he will come like a thief in the night.
Jesus uses his authority to secure our freedom. And – like a thief in the night – he will set us free by entering where we have constructed our own defence mechanisms; where we are imprisoned not least by our own attempts to save ourselves from the darkness beyond.
But more than this: Jesus has given his keys to – has conferred his authority upon – his Church, in order that we might exercise his authority to release prisoners from the prison house.
This Advent, make room for Jesus at the key hook by being surprised by his coming, by pondering the wonder of his presence with us, and by asking whose prison we might unlock – in practical acts of loving service, in invitation to welcome the King, in proclaiming that the dawn of the Sun of Righteousness draws near.
O Clavis David
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.
Advent: making room for Jesus – at the key hook.