“Jesus saves!” The words exploded like a bullfrog calling for a mate squatting upon his breeding pond, daring the intrusion of other males. “Jesus saves! Yes, he do! Yes, sir, Yes sirrrh, Jesus saves!” What looked like a black-robed preacher rasped into his hand-held microphone, the other one, mopped his brow with a blue rag.

Such was my experience while paused at a stoplight, years ago. It was hot, a commercial intersection on the city’s North side streaming with pedestrians and motorists. Heads bowed over cell phones, others chattering, still others rushing to get ahead: No one stopped to listen. Yet, the high drama escalated: His neck veins twizzled like earthworms slithering on a dry sidewalk: “Listen to me, brothers. You sisters, over there. I’m talking to you. You must know that Jesus saves!” Then, the stoplight changed.

At the time, I remembered the unwashed desert-dweller, John the Baptist, preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.”—Then, baptizing his followers in the Jordan River, over two thousand years ago. Urgency also etched his voice, but unlike the black-robed preacher on the North side, his listeners hungered for conversion of heart, in preparation for Another’s coming.

What we don’t know is the true identity of the black-robed preacher and his mission. Back then, it seems passersby found Jesus inessential to their lives. But someone may have heard. I did.

Still, conversion of heart remains central to Christian living, especially today, and who is more central to this process than John the Baptist. Again, with humility and gratitude, I await the coming of Jesus, at Christmas.