A hairy, often smelly, flea-bitten, insect-eating, sharp-tongued wilderness man. Not at all like the well-mannered softies that lived in the king’s palace. But they were coming from all around to hear this John. Many would be so shaken by his message that they would be baptized. Some people hear this today and still get shaken up. John the Baptist was human roughage. But Jesus called him a prophet.
John the Baptist was full of the Holy Spirit. That’s why his words hit home with so many. But he knew there was a greater power and greater effectiveness than he could ever have. For however much he was inspired by God, he could not send that Spirit into anyone. Nor could he be the full example of the life lived in the Spirit. Could he cause them to put their sins behind them? Yes. Or strive to be holy? Yes. But he could not give them the presence of God; he could only tell them to prepare for the One who could and would give it.
It was John’s job to tell of the One to come, the Messiah, the One who would send the Holy Spirit into those he baptized. One whose words and deeds would have even more impact than John’s. One who would separate out or winnow the good from the bad, the fruit from the waste materials. One that John knew as friend and family, whom John had already come to respect and highly value, but whom he didn’t know as the One. The One was Jesus. Throughout His ministry, and in the early years of the apostles after Jesus’ death, Jesus and his followers would keep coming across people who had come to love God through John’s work. Some who heeded John’s call soon took up their crosses and followed Jesus. But John’s call for repentance helps us prepare, too, for John was just trying to get people to do what God wanted, and that’s how anyone can be prepared for the presence of God-with-us.
Send Your Spirit, Lord, to fill everything about us. Drown our sinful selves in the waters of repentance. Give us the power and guidance to live as You would have us live. Amen.
Also, see Isaiah 11, which is a common reading from the Prophets for this day.
A challenge : have you ever gone to a priest, a minister, or a leader in faith, just to repent of a wrong you’ve done, just to ask God for forgiveness in the presence of another follower of Christ? If not, consider doing so. It’s a key way of preparing the way of the Lord. He is coming back, after all.
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
— Thomas Cranmer