The Christmas break gave me time to catch up on current events and read articles I had marked but was never able to get to during the past year. Some of the most interesting headlines I came across were:
-Saudis Said to Use Coercion and Abuse to Seize Billions (NYT, Mar. 2018)
-Arkansas Home Changes Policy to Welcome More Pregnant Teens (US News, July 2018)
-Middle East Power Struggle Plays Out on New Stage (WSJ, June 2018)
-The New Age of Astrology (The Atlantic, Jan. 2018)
-Why Gold Prices May Have Already Bottomed (MarketWatch, Oct. 2018)
-Iranian Spy Service Suspected of Assassination Plot in Denmark (Reuters, Oct. 2018)
Actually, that’s a big lie. I didn’t read even one of those articles. Instead, I spent a good deal of my free time reading some lightweight brain candy and binge-watching Glee. For the second time. Sad, but true.
But in a sense, I did read about the issues that these articles discussed. We all did. That’s because each of those issues were mentioned in last week’s Gospel reading (Matthew 2:1-12). “Coercion and Abuse?” “Power Struggle?” “Assassination Plot?” It doesn’t get much more “cloak and dagger” than King Herod’s sinister plan to use the Magi’s visit as reconnaissance to gain the necessary intel needed to destroy possible rivals. “Pregnant Teens?” Not only is Mary with child at a very young age, her fiancé isn’t even the father. And of course, “Astrology” and “Gold” are key elements to the star-guided pilgrimage of the three kings who presented treasures as gifts in homage.
It’s striking to me that Matthew takes great pains to center the story of Jesus’ birth smack dab in the center of many social and political issues. The point seems clear. The incarnation, this very direct experience of God in human history, happens within – not outside of – the messy, divisive, difficult-to-solve issues of the time. And it’s worth noting that those same issues – and many others – are still relevant today.
Then in Sunday’s Gospel, this time from Luke, we’ll fast forward a few decades to see John baptizing the masses with water but saying that one who is mightier is yet to come. Then we’ll hear that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus after his own baptism (Luke 3:15-16, 21-22). The word “baptism” comes from the original Greek baptizein, which means “to immerse.” Symbolically, Jesus was immersed into water to demonstrate his full immersion into the reality of God. And this is what made it possible for him to speak with authority to the social and political issues of the day while preaching a gospel of love.
Baptism is a 24/7, 365-days-a-year sacrament. It’s not a one-and-done experience with water, oil, and white garments way back when we were little. While the ritual itself is in the distant past, our baptism is a continual reality. Perhaps our Gospel call this new year is to reaffirm our own immersion in the Spirit and let that reality guide our words and actions regarding the social and political issues of today. Last week, we heard that after visiting Jesus the Magi “departed for their country by another way” (Matthew 2:12). Maybe 2019 can be the year we too find “another way” to live the Gospel within the messiness of today’s weighty challenges immersed in the Spirit and guided by faith.
By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry