Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Feet

“Those Beautiful Feet”
Isaiah 52:7-10
December 25, 2011

            I never understood why new parents were so crazy about their children’s feet.  Every new parent I’ve ever come across has oohed and aahed about their precious little bundle of joy’s feet.  Each little toe has to be counted and tickled and sighed over.  I’ve even seen new parents kiss their baby’s feet.  I never understood it – until I had children of my own.  Ever since we saw the ultrasound of Phoebe that clearly showed this perfect foot, I’ve been in love with my kids’ feet.  When both of them were born I would sit and count their little toes.  I loved the fact that they were so pink and chubby and perfect.  I even kissed them because they were just so cute.
            It made me a little sad to see both Phoebe and Zach begin to walk.  I was sad not just because I knew how hectic it would be keeping up with them once they began to run around.  I was sad because before they walked their feet were perfect.  There was no rough skin, no calluses.  I wanted their little feet to remain soft and unblemished.  I wanted their feet to stay brand new forever.
            I think one of the reasons for this is because I hate my own feet.  I have the world’s ugliest feet.  I have big lumpy calluses on either side, just underneath the toes.  My sister’s feet are the same way.  Our mom has always said it’s because of the way we walk.  I don’t know, but it was years before I realized that most people’s feet don’t look like mine. 
            My feet are also ugly because I got hold of my dad’s razor when I was about six and shaved them.  So not only do I have ugly, bumpy callused feet, I also look like a Hobbit from the ankle down.  And I have this huge scar on my left foot from surgery I had to have on it, so that makes it even uglier than before.
            Even though I love it when I get pampering gifts like manicures and massages, it was a long time before I’d get a pedicure because I was so embarrassed about the state of my feet.
            Because I have this broad antipathy toward my feet, I’ve always read this passage from Isaiah with surprise.  The last word I would ever use to describe my feet or anyone’s feet for that matter is “beautiful.”  But that’s exactly how Isaiah depicts them.
            “How beautiful upon the mountain are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’”
            Why would Isaiah talk about the messenger’s feet?  Why would the feet be the first thing that’s noticed?  I think if it had been me, I would have looked at the face of the messenger or the hair or the eyes or the hands or just the whole person.  “How beautiful is the messenger who announces peace.”
            But no matter my opinion, Isaiah writes, “how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace.”
            So what’s so beautiful about these feet?  Considering the conditions they walked about in, they probably weren’t any prettier or better looking than mine.  I imagine that there calluses because walking was the main form of transportation.  And even though there were sandals that helped protect the soles, they definitely must have gotten dusty and dirty and grimy from walking on dirt roads and dirt floors and everything else that was dirt at that time.  I imagine that the main reason behind the rule of hospitality of bringing water for a visitor’s feet was done because of the dirt.  A person’s feet were always dirty, so it was truly hospitable to give someone water to clean them.
            I bet these feet weren’t any better looking than my own.  They may have looked Hobbit like as well.  And yet these feet, the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, are beautiful.
            Maybe it’s because of the messenger and the message that Isaiah portrays these feet as beautiful.  Isaiah wrote specifically about the period of Israel’s exile.  The Israelites were scattered, uprooted and driven away from their homes, their places of worship, their neighbors, their villages, everything and everyone that was familiar.
            Israel had been overtaken and overrun by Babylon, and this was a devastating and humiliating event in the life of the nation.  Their entire way of life was shattered.  I can imagine that this devastation and humiliation were reflected in the manners and ways of the people.  Their self-confidence, their esteem, their pride must have been shattered as well.
            And if you’ve been devastated, humiliated, shorn of your confidence; if you once believed that you were untouchable, invincible only to be proved horribly, horribly wrong, you probably don’t walk very tall.  You probably don’t walk with much pride in your step.  You almost certainly keep your head low, your eyes focused on the ground.
            In fact when you’ve been defeated – as a nation in war, as a human in life – when your hopes and dreams seem pretty useless, you might spend a good part of your days looking down with your head lowered and your shoulders rounded.
            So what would you see when you hear a voice proclaiming something wonderful from the mountains?  What would you see when you hear that the impossible is about to happen, that your time of exile is over, that you and your family and your neighbors and their neighbors are going home?  What would you see?
            What would you see?  When you first hear the good news, you might look up, lifting your head just a little bit.  You can tell that someone is standing above you, crying out miraculous news.  But the sun is streaming behind him, so you can’t really make out a face or even much of a body.  And if you’ve been looking down for so long, it can be hard to look up again.  But when you do, the first thing you see are the feet of the messenger.  Those beautiful, beautiful feet.
            How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger that announces peace.  How beautiful are the feet?
            My guess is that Jesus’ feet weren’t any prettier than mine.  They too were probably callused and rough.  Maybe they were also lumpy and bumpy.  They probably got dirty from dust just like everyone else’s.  And they were far more burdened than mine have ever been or will be.  They bore scars that mine never will.  Jesus’ feet took a journey that mine will never take.  They carried him to the cross.  His feet hung against coarse, jagged wood until he died.
            When a tired, discouraged, defeated world looks at a lowly manger and sees a wooden cross rising from it, we may only be able to make out a little of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who declares salvation, who says to Zion and to a waiting world, “your God reigns.”  We may only be able to see the feet of the messenger, those scarred, dusty, rough, callused beautiful, beautiful, beautiful feet.
            How beautiful upon the mountain are the feet of the messenger who announces peace?  How beautiful are those feet.  Alleluia!  Amen.