Book excerpt: John the Baptist calls for repentance

Repentance is rarely en vogue, and certainly not popular nowadays when people rarely think about sin and more rarely believe themselves sinful.

Taking clear-eyed stock of your own flaws is difficult.

Easier to tick off items on a gift list, RSPV to a holiday party, or string twinkly lights.

Isn’t repentance more a long-faced companion for New Year’s resolutions?

From Benedictus, a collection of daily readings from Pope Benedict XVI, for December 10:

John appears in the wilderness as a man dedicated to God.

First of all he preaches repentance, purification, and the gathering together of the people for the coming of God. In a sense this proclamation summarizes the whole of prophecy at the very moment when history is reaching its goal. His mission is to open the door for God, so that Israel is ready to welcome him and to prepare for his hour in history.

The important things are first his call to repentance, which continues what all the prophets said, and second his witness to Christ, which again makes prophecy concrete in the image of the lamb, which is the Lamb of God. Let us recall the stories of Abraham, the stories of Isaac, the sacrifices that involve a lamb, especially the paschal sacrifice, in which a lamb is sacrified.

These substitutes now find their fulfillment. Basically, the Paschal Lamb stands in place of us men. Now Christ is sent by God to become the Pascal Lamb, and he shares our fate and thereby transforms it…

John says that Christ is not just some historical personage, but is the one who goes before us all, who comes forth from the eternity of God and is an intimate part of that eternity.