“There is one … coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” Untying sandal straps was no prestigious job. In the days of John the Baptist, those straps would have been especially unpleasant to deal with. Besides the usual odors that accompany sockless leather footwear, there would have been the grime and dirt from the sandy roads and paths that swirled around the people who went everywhere on foot. Taking off someone’s shoes upon their arrival was the task of the lowly servants. So when John says he’s unworthy of doing this task for the “one who is coming after me,” he is putting himself in a very humble position.
And rightly so. John realizes that the Christ–the Anointed One, the Messiah–is so far above him, so far above any of us, that we are truly unworthy of him. Indeed, the Son of God is not just the greatest of men; he is God-made-man and in his presence, we most appropriately should bow in humble homage. Yet this God chose to stoop down to our human level and walk among us. He chose to get his sandals dirty. And still today he chooses to allow us to encounter him as a friend and companion.
But as John reminds us by his example, this encounter with the Lord is not the result of our own merits or accomplishments. We are sinners who stand in need of Christ’s help. But thanks be to God, he is always willing to extend this help to us. As St. Paul says in today’s epistle, “May the God of peace make you perfectly holy.” Indeed, it is God who does the perfecting, not us by our own power. So let us approach the Lord this Advent season with a spirit of hopeful humility, trusting that God alone can make us worthy of welcoming his Son.