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The End of the World, Jesus and 2012

Q U I C K S C A N

Modern Doomsday Scenarios
A Lot of Hopelessness Out There
Signs of Hope


Amidst all the speculation about the end of the world coming in 2012 (fueled partly by Roland Emmerich’s new movie), we have to decide where to put our faith. Do we believe ancient or modern prophets of Doomsday? Or do we put our trust in Jesus and his calendar?

The Mayan people, who built and maintained a sophisticated empire in Mexico and Central America from 250 to 900 A.D., first came up with the 2012 date. In the end, their empire collapsed, probably brought down by famine and war.

They took time very seriously. To know when to plant and when to offer blood sacrifices to their gods for good harvests and military successes, the Mayans developed a number of different calendars based on astronomical observations. Their Long Count calendar has the completion of 13 baktuns (a unit of time equal to 394 years) occurring at the winter solstice, December 21, 2012.

Mayan descendants and experts on the culture are uncertain as to precisely what 2012 meant to the Maya. Was it the end of the world or a reminder to get a new calendar, as we do every New Year’s Eve? Most think they saw it as a harbinger of profound spiritual transition—good or bad—for humankind.

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Modern Doomsday Scenarios

The ancient Mayans anticipated the galactic realignment that modern astronomers predict for 2012. The sun will be opposite the dark band in the center of the Milky Way. This happens once every 26,000 years.

Cable TV’s History, formerly known as The History Channel, has been playing out Doomsday scenarios for months. They link the Mayan calendar with the predictions of Nostradamus; the possibility of solar flares, geomagnetic reversals, rogue comets and planets colliding with Earth; and St. Malachy’s prophecies. These are probably forgeries since Bishop Malachy lived in 12th-century Ireland, yet the manuscript containing them didn’t surface until 1590. Nevertheless, it predicts that the last pope will be the 265th or 266th; Pope Benedict XVI is 264 (if one doesn’t count the antipopes).

Why is there all this emphasis on the end-times now? Is it just a scheme to sell food-storage containers (advertised on some Doomsday Web sites) that are guaranteed to withstand Armageddon?

Those who stand to make money off Doomsday scenarios are certainly to blame, but they address audiences already scared about the state of this world.

The economic recession in the United States has everyone uneasy. It comes on the heels of 9/11 and the hopes/fears of the new millennium and the election of President Barack Obama. And the United States continues its entanglement in two wars—Afghanistan and Iraq—that just won’t end. Ecological disasters, nuclear proliferation and global warming/cooling debates don’t help.

The Church has spent the last eight years cleaning up the clergy sex-abuse mess. Dioceses and parishes have less money to spend on parish programs, and lay personnel are being cut. Parishes close, church attendance lessens and the number of priests declines.

So why bring all this up at Christmastime? Because the Church links the end and the beginning with the Scripture readings that close and open every liturgical year.

Hope is the main weapon we have to combat the unease, depression and despair many people feel. And one of the best signs of hope in this world is a new baby. Any baby can grow into the person who finds the cure for cancer, quadruples food production or brings peace into the world. Children assure us that the world will go on.

And the baby whose birth is celebrated at Christmas teaches us the way into a new Kingdom of God—if we just follow his example.

We can take hope from the example of Immaculée Ilibagiza, a Catholic survivor of the Rwandan genocide whose two books, Left to Tell and Led by Faith, try to explain why she continues to believe in the future.

Another new book, Between Heaven and Ground Zero (Bethany House), details Leslie Haskin’s harrowing escape down 36 floors in Tower One of the World Trade Center and her struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The former insurance exec now spends her time helping homeless women and children and victims of domestic violence through a Presbyterian church in Montgomery, New York.

Another sign of hope comes from the findings of the Human Genome Project. They reveal how genetically close all humans are and, if reason is allowed to play a part, should put an end to racism forever.

I would encourage everyone to look around this Advent and identify other signs of hope.

Behind the Bible’s final book, Revelation (formerly called the Apocalypse), is the assurance that God loves us and will protect us through everything. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of time.

Jesus said he didn’t know the day or hour of the world’s passing away (Matthew 24:36) and didn’t want us focusing on a certain date. He asked us to be always prepared. And he was crystal-clear that we should never be afraid (Mark 13:3-36). No matter when the end comes, Jesus, our Emmanuel, will be with us.--B.B.


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