John the Baptist’s fiery call to repentance sounds harsh when we’re in the midst of preparations for the baby Jesus. The birth of a child is usually preceded by joyful expectation. But the child envisioned by John will come with an axe, with a winnowing fork and with purging flame.
Although John is most severe when he is warning the Pharisees and Sadducees, he calls all to repent, and when they are baptized in the Jordan, to confess their sins. No one, it seems, is righteous. All need to repent and be cleansed from sin. And then they must live a changed life. It is not enough to claim membership among God’s chosen people; our deeds must be in accord with our stated commitments.