“I am unworthy to unfasten the sandals on his feet.” St. John the Baptist said this about his cousin, the Word made flesh.
For St. John the Baptist to say this! A worthy man, St. John. The greatest of all prophets. Consecrated in the womb of St. Elizabeth. Righteous as righteous can be. Even he says, “I don’t deserve even to unfasten the sandals of Jesus.”
Now, baby Jesus had no sandals at the first Christmas. His little feet hadn’t grown big enough yet even for footie pajamas. But St. John’s sense of unworthiness: let’s strive to feel it. Because it will help us find real joy, as we make our spiritual visit to the manger.
I’m not saying that we humble human beings don’t have some things going for us. We have rights, rights which even God recognizes. He made us creatures worthy of respect.
All human beings have the right to life, the right to a decent life, the right to follow our consciences freely. We all owe each other respect and esteem.
And Christmas offers us the perfect time to beg pardon of one another for all the times we have treated each other unworthily. For all the times I have failed to recognize what every human being deserves from me.
But the coming of Christ into the world involves something way beyond what we are “worthy” of, something way beyond what we could ever claim to deserve. We creatures made of dust, prone to ignorance, cravenly selfish—what claim can we have on our Creator? What can we demand of Him as our right, something He supposedly ‘owes’ us? In the beginning, He made us out of nothing, purely because of His love. We respond by looking at our phones most of the time.
Lying in the manger, Jesus radiates peace. His peace comes from the sublime heights of His divinity. He offers to us human beings what He has as God–as a gift. He offers freely what we ourselves have no hope of having, without Him.
We, the human race, deserved to stew in our own rather-unpleasant juice. But that’s what Judge Judy would say, if she had the case to judge. God, on the other hand, judges according to the criterion of His own ineffable love.
He stays true to Himself in everything, no matter what we do or don’t do. So, in the fullness of time, He became man, born of the Virgin, to give the human race hope and peace—to give Himself, as a pure, un-merited gift to the un-deserving.
Our real Christmas joy springs from the very same place in our souls where we acknowledge just how unworthy we are to be anywhere near the mystery of Bethlehem. Men and women of unclean lips, consumed by trifles, vain and self-centered! Yet He invites us to kneel close to Him, to adore Him, to hear His gentle breathing, and rejoice that His heart beats for us.
At Christmas, God tells the human race: What you deserve does not exactly concern Me right now. I delight in you. Not because you deserve it. But because I love you.