“Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” (Joshua 5:15)
My friend Tal has a long-standing tradition of refusing to listen to the song “Christmas Shoes”. He measures the greatness of the Christmas season by whether he has had to endure listening to the song. It is quite humorous seeing Tal take precautions and setting up his guard against hearing it. (I have heeded my brother’s warning about this song and I myself have avoided it.)
The scene in Joshua 5 when Joshua stands before the Commander of the LORD’s Army is a familiar scene. Joshua is told to remove his sandals because he is on holy ground. In Exodus 3:5, the same words are uttered by God in the burning bush to Moses as Moses is being commissioned to go announce freedom to the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. One other mention of sandals in the Bible is intriguing. In Mark 1:7, John the Baptist announces that he is preparing the way for one “mightier than he, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie”. When we see sandals mentioned in the Bible, it appears, at least in these three accounts, that God calls people to humbly and reverently be about His mission on earth.
Moses, Joshua, and John. Men called by God to declare His mission on earth. What strikes me about the encounter with the Commander of the LORD’s Army in Joshua 5 is that Joshua is preparing to lead God’s people, the Hebrews, into the promised land. One would think God was mightily on their side, right? But when Joshua asks this Commander whose side he’s on, either Joshua’s side or the side of their opponents, this Commander responds with a resounding, “NO!” This Commander was not on either side of the conflict between men. The Commander’s loyalty was to God. Joshua’s response, along with Moses’s response and John’s response to this truth was a response of faithful worship. They realized very quickly that they should never ask if God is on their side, but instead, “Am I on the side of God?”
Advent is a season where the people of God should reflect upon that question. We just endured a contentious special election in Alabama and I believe that many people wanted their vote to reflect God’s will. The conversations I heard among faithful Christians seemed to echo concern about choosing the correct candidate because we did not want to vote for the candidate that God had not chosen. Advent is when we take time to reset and remember—Christ is King. Our loyalty as Christians is first and foremost to him. We should be a reflective people who take time to discern whose side we are on. Ephesians tells us that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
In other words, we cannot just assume that because we as Christian individuals assume the right course of action is the actual right course of action. Humility, sobriety, and discernment are essential to obedience. The true question for us as believers isn’t, “God, are you on our side?”. Rather, it isn’t a question at all. It is a plea–“Have mercy on me, O God, for I am a sinner. Create in me a clean heart and renew the right spirit within me!”
All of this is to remind us about who we are as Christians. As Tal avoids at all costs the “threat” of listening to the song “Christmas Shoes”, we should avoid at all costs false understandings of who Christ is. Christ is God for us. He has made it possible for us to be at peace with God. So, as we are on mission for God, I pray that we remember the message of the Advent Sandals. Humility, reverence, and service for the glory of God is our task. May we prepare the way for the return of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Commander of the LORD’s Army. “Take off your sandals, you are on holy ground.” Amen.