O Clavis David
O Key of David, and sceptre of the house of Israel,
who opens and no one can shut, who shuts and no one can open:
Come and bring the prisoners from the prison house,
who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
Dawn is breaking and the exquisite music of Arvo Pärt’s “Sieben Magnificat Antiphonen” plays quietly in the background. How far is the gentleness of this fourth morn in Advent’s final Octave of Anticipation from the prisoners in the prison houses of this world, the ones for whom we pray this day? The U.S. reveals its deeply shadowed persona with a per capita prison population that rivals only the most repressive regimes in the world. Indeed, our longing for the Messiah intuits that it is only the Expected One who can bring God’s light to this particular societal darkness. Such longing is touched when we hear Jesus proclaim in the synagogue of Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord … has anointed me to … proclaim release to the captives…” Though such a claim horrified Jesus’ listeners in Nazareth, Christians believe that Jesus is this “Key of David,” the only one who opens that which no one can shut, and shuts that which no one can open.
We, no less than those ancient Israelites or Nazarenes also dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, for we too are prisoners, prisoners of our own fears. Perhaps that is why this particular justice issue is so intractable for us. We lock up what we don’t understand and cannot heal, in ourselves and in our society. We long for a Messiah who can bring us out of this particular prison. His coming into the world shows us the way forward to participating in the Messiah’s redeeming acts, of which prisoners liberated from the prison house will be but one sign.
–The Rev. L. Ann Hallisey, Dean of Students