O Key of David and Scepter 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.

The fourth O Antiphon addresses the longed-for Messiah as the Key of David and Scepter, drawn from Isaiah 9:6 and 22:22.

Again, we begin with metaphors of royal power. Whoever possesses keys has the means to imprison others, either literally or psychologically or spiritually: a bonding to another occurs. Whoever holds the scepter, an ancient symbol of imperial sovereignty, holds absolute sway over nations; they are controlled, sometimes locked down within rules and regulations, benevolent or sadistic.

The Israelites’ checkered experience with their kings and those of neighboring countries led them to long for a Messiah, with power to effect vital and lasting change. Intermittent warfare only weakened them. Centuries of exile under the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians further undermined their sense of being Yahweh’s chosen people. Living in darkness and the shadow of death grieved them. A few did remember better times and yearned for a different way of life.

Like all the other O Antiphons, the imperative Come seeks the Messiah’s intervention in His people’s suffering, largely caused by ignorance and self-will. Only He can bring about lasting change.

And are we that different from the ancient Israelites? Living in self-imposed prisons of fear and doubt? Our sloth compounding our darkness? Speaking for myself, I think not, especially since I’m living within the shadow of death.