O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.
If Christ’s coming were merely an event in history, even with the ramifications it has on our collective salvation, we would celebrate it with relatively little fanfare. It might get an octave,1 but it wouldn’t merit an entire season of preparation and then a season of celebration.
Now, it was an event in history–God was made man out of love of us. This is no myth. But our celebration of the Nativity is so much more than a celebration of a historical event. It’s also a celebration of Christ’s advent into the life of each believer. When we pray for the walls of death to be broken down, it’s not some fanciful reflection on something that happened 2000 years ago, it’s a real and serious plea for freedom for you and me and everyone right now.
Hence Advent, a season of darkness that reminds us that we dwell in the shadow of death. We traipse through Ordinary Time blithely unaware of our sin, but this season that places before us a filthy stable awaiting the immaculate king makes us pause. “For me,” we think. “That I might have life.”
Because we’ve forgotten that we’re dead. We’ve painted the walls of our prison cell and turned up our ipods and gorged ourselves on the good food provided to placate our rebellious desire for virtue and we’ve forgotten that we were made for sunshine and joy and freedom and so much more than the prison we’ve made for ourselves by our sin. “I’m a good person,” I tell myself and ignore my temper or my laziness or my refusal to give God even ten minutes a day in prayer. And we might be good people by the world’s standards but Christ says, “Be perfect.”
It starts with a feeling. Unchecked, the feeling becomes an attitude. The attitude becomes an action and the action becomes a habit and the habit becomes a way of life and that innocuous little feeling has suddenly become a wall of vice and I didn’t even notice it! It might not be mortal sin but even venial sin, washed away by communion or contrition or even holy water, leaves a residue that only confession can remove. That residue builds and builds until we don’t recognize who we’ve become. And we who were freed from the prison of Original Sin by the blood of the spotless Lamb have built a new one of envy and lust and sloth.
So here we are, this fallen world bound by sin and walled in to a prison we entered freely. But Christ has come. He has taken on our flesh that he might bear our punishment and has won our freedom. He stands now and knocks at the door of your prison cell, keys in hand, longing to enter and break down those walls. He comes to wake you up to the misery of your captivity to sin and to lead you into the freedom of life in him.
God is a gentleman, though, and will not enter, will not save and heal and sanctify without permission. He stands and knocks and waits for you to invite him in, waits for you simply to speak the word so that he can set you free. This is his advent in your life right now: the restoration of a broken heart to a state of grace. The key to heaven rests in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God’s gift to the fallen.
In this Sacrament, terrible sinners are justified, yes. But we who try so hard and generally do so well–we too are given grace to persevere. We too are bound by sin and freed by his mercy. We too are transformed and drawn from darkness into light. Don’t think that because you’re a “good person” that you aren’t imprisoned. The Key of David has come to set you free. You have only to ask.
If you haven’t been to confession yet this Advent season,2 do it. Whether it’s been a month or 30 years, the time is now. Prepare your heart for the pure infant Jesus and receive the gift of new life.
Oh, come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!