Yesterday morning, I really enjoyed preaching about John the Baptist from Matthew 3. There's plenty about John that's disturbing - not least his choice of clothes and food. Most people's mental picture is probably of someone slightly deranged, or perhaps someone rather like the ranting kind of street evangelist that you cross the road to avoid.
But I think it's not doing John justice to dismiss him that easily. He's not a finger-pointer, wanting to highlight faults, dish out condemnation and generally make people feel worse about themselves. He's a man on a mission, and a very single-minded man.
The clue is in the text itself. All the condemnation language is aimed squarely at the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Although the two groupings were at odds with each other, they both represented religious and moral pride. John blasts them about depending on their heritage to make claims upon God, rather than living lives which bore fruit fit in keeping with someone living a life changed by God.
For everyone else, John gives a call to repent. Repent is one of those words which has been much misused and maligned. The Greek word for repentance, metanoia, means change of mind, or change of thinking. It's about turning, changing direction. For me, that's an incredibly hopeful and positive concept. Change is possible. This isn't "the end of the world is nigh, and everybody is going to die" of the street ranter; this is good news that the kingdom is near and it's changing the world.