Shoelaces and Salvation
Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent
Preached on December 13-14, 2014 at St. Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY and St. Mary Catholic Church, Perryville KY
Readings: Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
As a toddler I thought that shoe laces were instruments of torture. Fiddling with them just seemed so complicated: I had to take this lace and make a loop that went right over the other loop. I envied the other little boys whose parents loved them enough to buy them moccasins; they slid their feet right in and just as easily slipped them back out. None of them had to fiddle with untangled laces. I, on the other hand, always had to turn to my dad for help. He patiently tried to teach me how to tie my own shoes but I trusted his work more than I did mine or that of any other. I tended to leave some slack with my knots which meant that in a minute or two they would unravel. Other people bound them so tightly that I thought they were trying to cut off all circulation to my feet. The worst were my older cousins who would tie together the strings of both shoes to make me trip and fall. Only Dad knew how to tie my laces snugly enough so that they never got loose the whole day through.
There is an intimacy there when a father helps his son tie his shoe laces. It is not just an act of instruction, the passing on of knowledge on how to make a double knot out of two strings. It has a servile quality: the father stoops down to the level of his child to help him out.
It was this act of service that even John the Baptist deemed himself unworthy to do for the One who is to come. “The One who is coming after me,” he said, “whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie” (Jn. 1:27; Mk. 1:7; Lk. 3:16). The Messiah is so much mightier than he that a lowly prophet like him could not even dare touch those venerable feet.
But, the wonderful thing about our God is that He exceeds our every expectation. This is the glad tidings proclaimed to us who are poor (cf. Is. 61:1), the reason for our celebration as His people. The One whom we believed we were unfit to approach came to us. The One who is so above us lowered Himself to our level, took on our human nature as His own, and walked the length of life’s every mile in our shoes. The One whose sandal strap none of us are worthy to untie stooped down and washed our feet (cf. Jn. 13:4-5). Even John had not expected the surprise that the Lord had in store: he thought that he was to be baptized by Christ, yet it was Christ who came to be baptized by John (cf. Mt. 3:13-14).
John the Baptist was “the voice crying out in the desert,” making “straight the way of the Lord” (cf. Jn. 1:23). But, little did he or any of us realize that the Lord Himself, like any good father, would come to prepare our very feet: to strap our sandals for us, to tie our shoelaces, so that we might walk His way of salvation and not falter, so that we might run on His path and not fall (cf. Is. 40:31).