Why Does John the Baptist Tell People to Repent?

In last night's Jesus Class, more than one participant remarked at the way Jesus is introduced by John the Baptist. In the fist place John the Baptist is not marketed well for a successful ministry. He's not in the temple being video cast to multi-sites all over Palestine. Let's just say... he's not in Jerusalem (the center of Jewish spiritual life) he's not in the temple (the center of the center). He's in the wilderness.

He's preaching repentance! Not grace! And people are coming to him from everywhere. It would be like Mark Ashton deciding he'd like to go to a corn field outside Wahoo and deliver his Sunday messages... and people would actually flock to be there! And in response to such a message, people would actually be cut to the heart, repent and be living in expectation of Jesus' arrival.

Could it be we actually need to clean up our life BEFORE meeting Jesus makes any sense? John can't be telling us that we have to get rid of all our sins before we encounter Jesus! Got any thoughts?