Welcome to December 22, 2012

Today—December 22, 2012—is a day many thought would never come.  A number of people were expecting some form of the apocalypse to occur on December 21, 2012.  According to one web site, “At least 25 million people think that there won’t be a Christmas this year because of the Mayan apocalypse.”  That is, they believed that the world would end on December 21, in part because of an ancient Mayan calendar.  According to Wikipedia, this calendar is “an ancient Mayan monument in Tortuguero, Mexico, and is believed to have been left by a Mayan ruler.  The Mayan leader, fresh from defeat on the battlefield, declared that the military setback was but one event in a larger cycle of time that would end in 2012.”  This date has morphed at the hands of certain creative apocalyptic minds into a prediction of Doomsday, on December 21, 2012.  Since the source is Mayan and not Christian, it has a certain degree of credibility in the minds of some, and the date has found resonance with many who are prepared to lay aside cash and to rearrange their (presumably shortened) lives in accordance with these predictions.  One imagines that they have not bought many Christmas presents for their families or friends, or made any New Year resolutions.  For them, it will all be over December 21.

This is not of course the first time that predictors of The End have had to eat their share of public “crow.”  Earlier last year (how quickly we forget) Mr. Harold Camping made the news by predicting the end of the world—not once, but twice!—during the same year.  He predicted that The End would come on May 21, 2011, whereupon many of his devout followers sold their homes and duly waited for the end to arrive.  When it did not arrive, and when May 21 was succeeded by May 22, he pronounced himself to be “flabbergasted,” and then announced that he had not been crassly wrong, misled, or stupid, but just a little off in the details, and that now The End would come without any more fanfare on October 21.  Of course nothing much happened apocalyptically on October 21, which was followed by October 22.  Thereupon Mr. Camping had the much-delayed sense to retire from the field of apocalyptic prediction, and give it a rest.

Such penchant for prediction is not simply a modern mania.  As Yogi Berra once famously said, “It’s deja-vu all over again”,  for in the 19th century we read about the career of Mr. William Miller.  In his day, the big buzz was not over something exotic like the Mayan calendar, but the Biblical books of Daniel and Revelation.  At that time, many people were mucking about with dates drawn from history and prophecy, and Mr. Miller concluded that The End would come on sometime between 1843-1844.  He based this belief on Daniel 8:44, which spoke of 2300 days (actually a reference to the cleansing of the Jewish Temple in the second century BC), and making his computations on the principle of a year for a day (see Ezekiel 4:5-6).  Taking his starting point in 457 BC, the date of the decree of Artaxerxes I in Persia to rebuild Jerusalem, Mr. Miller then came up with his end-time dates.  (I swear I am not making this up.)  His followers therefore confidently predicted the Second Coming would come on October 22, 1844.  Many people believed this prediction and joined the movement, some of them purportedly going up to rooftops dressed in white and awaiting for their Lord to return.  The Lord did not return then, and they climbed down from their rooftops October 23, much the sadder.  The event is referred to in their history as “the Great Disappointment”, and many left the Millerite movement at that time.  Some continued to cling to the original chronology, saying that the Lord did indeed return, but returned to the heavenly Temple, not to planet earth.  They became the Seventh Day Adventist Church.  Mr. Miller died on December 20, 1849, still believing that, while he might have been a bit off in his math, the Second Coming was still just around the corner.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose:  Fast forward to December 2012.  People still look forward to The End, though the Bible has fallen out of fashion in favour of foreign things, such as the Mayan calendar.  I will not elaborate on the immense attraction of these predictions, or the immense amount of cash spent in preparing for the coming End.  Suffice here to simply say that the attraction is immense, as is the amount of expended funds.  A look at your own desk calendar reveals that it was not money well spent, and at time of writing we have every hope of seeing both Christmas and Theophany.  So, what are we to say about all this?  Why this fascination with knowing in advance when the world (or at least the world as we know it) will come crashing down?
I suspect that the fascination is rooted in fear.  Not surprisingly then, our Lord, Who tells us over and over again not to fear (Mathew 7:25f, Luke 12:32), also tells us not to worry about when the final End will come.  Indeed, such things are not our concern, and cannot be figured out by any wisdom, whether human or angelic, but are in the Father’s hands alone (Matthew 24:36, Acts 1:6-7).  What God does put in our hands is duty of the present day—blessings to enjoy, good works to perform, prayers to be said, people to care for and love.  We are to relax, knowing the Father is in charge, and leave the driving (that is, the worrying) to Him.  When we withdraw ourselves from His care, either individually or culturally, we naturally fall into fear.  This fear accounts for the use of heavy security and prepared armed response on the part of some survivalists, and for the omnipresent apprehension with which the future is regarded.  It was different with the earliest Christians:  instead of fearing the final end when all would pass away with a loud noise and be dissolved with fire (2 Peter 3:10), they longed for it, praying “Let grace come and let the world pass away!” (from the Didache, chapter 10).  For the End was not a complete end, but would give way to a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13).  The world, which has not experienced this grace, naturally does not want the world to pass away, but clings desperately to what it has, and lives with a measure of fear.
It is this fear that drives individuals and cultures to seek for knowledge of when the End will come, for they feel that if they know when the world will end they have at least some control over life—even if it is just the control of not being surprised by the suddenness of the final catastrophe.  So, when the latest prophetic scam artist comes around talking about how Planet Nibiru will collide with Planet Earth, or about how the earth will somehow start rotating backwards on its axis, or about how an ancient Mayan calendar gives us the date for the end of the world, these people will find at least some receptive listeners—“motivated buyers” marketers call them—listeners who are preconditioned to accept what they say.  Culturally we have left the place of sanctity, sanity, and safety, and therefore of course find it hard to relax.  Some of those who have left this safe place of sanity naturally seize upon anything that promises to lessen the fear, even professed secret knowledge drawn from an old Mayan artifact.  But we who await for grace to come with the final end will be less likely to seize upon these fantastic fads.  We are better fitted to relax in this age while we wait for its final end.