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
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
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.
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
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
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.