Centuries before Jesus, prophets foretold a time when God would send Messiah, the Christ who would be our savior. They declared that he would be hard to recognize, not much to look at, and that many would turn away from him in disgust. The prophets went on to say that although the Promised One would surprise many by his appearing, he would bring about a time of great joy and peace, a time when God's righteousness would be established throughout the earth.
The prophets also declared that God would send another messenger when it was time for God to fulfill his promises, so that people might be ready to receive their King. The task of this messenger was to prepare God's people, and show them the way in which they should go.
And so it is, at the very start of Matthew's Gospel, that John the Baptist leaps into view with startling suddenness. He is a wildman, a latter day prophet, and aesthete; he is frightening in countenance and passionate of voice, and is somewhat terrifying to behold. But he is a most trustworthy guide for all who meet Jesus and receive salvation, for over and over he points the way to the one tiny door through which all must enter God's Kingdom: "Repent."