December 20 – O Clavis David – ‘I Am the Gate for the Sheep’

The Advent Antiphons are said or sung before and after the Magnificat at Vespers each evening of the week immediately prior to Christmas. Each one speaks of an aspect of the One who is to come, Israel’s hope and a Light to the Gentiles.

This set of reflections juxtaposes each of the Antiphons with one of the seven ‘I AM’ sayings of Jesus Christ, the embodied Hope of all Creation – the Word made flesh.

In this video, the Dominican brothers of Blackfriars Oxford sing the Magnificat Antiphon, O Clavis David

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 closes;
you close and no-one opens:
Come and deliver from the chains of prison
those who sit in darkness, and the shadow of death.
(Translation from Benedictine Daily Prayer: Liturgical Press)
Perhaps the most obscure of the seven ‘I Am’ sayings of Jesus is ‘I Am the gate for the sheep’ – the most obscure but in one sense perhaps the most clear in focussing us upon the very person of Jesus?
At the heart of the Christmas message is the category shattering pronouncement ‘and the Word became Flesh’. That which might to John’s Greek speaking listeners have been taken for the organisational principle of Reality, not merely ‘puts on’ flesh, but Becomes Flesh. This is the most powerful Move away from Abstraction, to the Concrete. And a very particular Concrete, that is the man Jesus of Nazareth.
We have spoken of the need to Contemplate – to Abide in Him. And that need remains as Life giving and urgent as ever, for we are wont to make of the gospel a set of principles, or a story, or a system of salvation, or a set of morals, veering as we do into a self referenced Deism, with plenty of room for us as the Centre of all things for apart from the concrete reality of Jesus, there is noThing to fill the void of ideas and principles.
The Word becomes flesh and invades our Space. And the language of The Gate moves us on from the Davidic gate keeper of the Antiphon. Jesus does not merely stand watch over the gate, He IS the Gate. We can only enter in and through Him in his concrete existence. Indeed any attempt to reduce Him to principles or morals, or words, (even ‘good’ words such as ‘Grace’) – marks us out as vagabonds and thieves, trying to steal in a different way – to take a course more suited to our own desires, rather than the way of the Cross, the Way into which we are baptised at the outset.
One of the perils of our age, which is beyond all that have gone before it ‘wordy‘ (and I am not unaware of the irony of pointing it out here), is that The Word becomes just that, a collection, a seemingly perpetually expanding collection of words, innumerable abstractions, propositions and principles. And so the Challenging Simplicity of faith in Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary, the eternally begotten Son of the Father, is lost. [Indeed all attempts to move away from the Trinitarian Name as our means of addressing God does just this]
Ours is a Sacramental Faith and necessarily so. Through the Water of Baptism, we enter the Jordan with Jesus in His baptism, we are immersed in the death of His Body, and raised to New Life. In our encounters with one another we are presented constantly with opportunities to Love Him. And in the Eucharist – we feed on Him, who is our Life.
Contemplation and Deep abiding in Him are Advent practices which focus on the person of Jesus of Nazareth – the one in whom all Ideas become Flesh and blood Reality. In whom there is No abstraction, and through whom we might enter and be saved, and through whom we may go in and out and find safe pasture.

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