Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make his paths straight!’”
Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.
Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?”
But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him.
After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
We are too hardened, as the people of God, to hearing the Baptist cry, “Repent!” We’ve done that; been to the waters; washed the guilt away. We’re weary of placard-wielding weirdoes and sandwich-board town-criers. We’ve heard the pulpit pounded enough; it’s time, we feel, for grace instead. We’re right, of course; mercy triumphs over judgment. But the saints warn us that repentance is never over, as we journey deeper into God. Perhaps repentance—conversion, changing of direction, renewal of our paths—is not always tied to guilt. Even the pure Lamb of God stoops beneath the waters, to “fulfill all righteousness.” But, then, other times there are sins we must repent from.
The time is short and yet you stay:
Today while it is called today
Kneel, wrestle, knock, do violence, pray;
Today is short, tomorrow nigh:
Why will you die? why will you die?
You sinned with me a pleasant sin:
Repent with me, for I repent.
Woe’s me the lore I must unlearn!
Woe’s me that easy way we went,
So rugged when I would return!
—Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)
from “The Convent Threshold