John was baptising in the desert of Judea, not in a town centre park, but it was a public event. Crowds of people had come along, some to repent, and to mark their change of direction by approaching the Baptist for immersion in the river, others to enjoy the spectacle of serious fellow citizens emerging from the water out of breath, dripping wet and undignified.
Having attended a few baptisms in my lifetime, I’d say that some things have changed, but the curious observers are still around, often wielding the cameras on their phones. I can’t help feeling that had those devices been around 2000 years ago, many people would have been too busy peering into them to notice the voice from Heaven – or was it a rumble of thunder? My son just showed me a picture of football spectators so busy looking through their phones that they missed the ball going into the corner of the net. Just one teenager is jumping up, arms outstretched, sheer joy on his face.
Last time we were at an event in our local park was the Lady Mayoress’s Carol Service, on the terrace just above the river. Smiles on many faces as far as we could see in the dark. There was even a terrier who tried to join in the singing; he certainly put a smile on Santa’s face! People soon stopped snapping on their phones and joined in the singing.
In the following days, Santa’s two year old grandson kept asking, Grandad, Santa Claus AGAIN! He kept a couple of appointments with the Saint before Christmas, then told the family on Boxing Day, Grandad Santa Claus no more. Santa was not a lasting name for Grandad, but Grandad was a new and lasting name for Will Turnstone.
John the Baptist announced a new name for Jesus, one we still use day by day in the liturgy: the Lamb of God. It is a powerful name: ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’