"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Hear the words of John the Baptist, forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though the peculiar role of this wild-eyed prophet found its fulfillment in Jesus' first Advent two thousand years ago, his call to repentance bears no less urgency for us today who await our Lord's return in glory. For indeed, how else does one "prepare the way of the Lord" but by bearing fruit in keeping with repentance? St. Paul says this:
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
The call to repentance grates on our sinful ears; we'll do almost anything to avoid taking it seriously. From Jesus, it's easy enough to dismiss as an idiosyncratic blip in his overarching program of peace and brotherly love. John, however, never gets the Buddy Christ treatment, mostly because there's no elegant way to baptize his fiery rhetoric of "the wrath to come" into an innocuous, consumer-friendly package. So we dismiss him as a raving madman--a part he seems more than willing to play, with his camel clothes and locust lunches. Why should we take him any more seriously than the sandwich-board apocalyptist on the Venice Beach boardwalk?
We take the Baptist seriously because Jesus took him seriously. "Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist." John's credibility is forever vouchsafed by our Lord's commendation. He was no reed shaken by the wind; he was the forerunner of the Christ. And Christ's return is nearer now than when we first believed. "Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight."
Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding;
“Christ is nigh,” it seems to say,
“Cast away the works of darkness,
O ye children of the day.”
Wakened by the solemn warning
Let the earthbound soul arise;
Christ, her Sun, all ill dispelling,
Shines upon the morning skies.
Lo, the Lamb, so long expected,
Comes with pardon down from Heav’n;
Let us haste, with tears of sorrow,
One and all to be forgiven.
That when next He comes in glory,
And the world is wrapped in fear,
With His mercy He may shield us,
And with words of love draw near.