Friday 21 December 2012

Not the End of the World

I contributed today’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. The day of posting being 21 December 2012, I felt compelled to reflect on the hullabaloo surrounding the coming to the end of the Maya Long Count calendar.

In the words of an old quip, if you’re unsure what to make of the rumblings about ancient Maya prophecies coming to pass today, 21 December 2012, don’t worry – it’s not the end of the world.

During its classical period (AD 250-900), Maya civilisation saw remarkable achievements in architecture, writing, maths, and astronomy, including the creation of a complex system of calendars. One such, the Long Count calendar, which roots the Maya people back in creation itself, reaches the end of a 1,872,000-day-long cycle on 21 December 2012. But the calendar doesn’t end at this point. Instead, like the mileometer on a car that’s gone round the clock, the count rolls over to zero the next day.

Some have spoken of the day being a ‘hinge point’ for the emergence of a new, more enlightened age, when we ‘reconnect with our cosmic heart’. Others have predicted doomsday scenarios involving UFOs, black holes, sun flares, the reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field, and giant tsunamis. Russia and China have reported panic buying of candles and matches, and the US has seen an increase in sales of survival shelters.

Everyday fears are increasingly shaped and intensified by the threat of global disaster – climate change, nuclear attacks, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, droughts, pandemics – all reinforced by the media. In popular culture, we see it most pointedly in films which portray the apocalypse or life in its dystopian aftermath. Such movies, like Roland Emmerich’s 2012 (inspired by the assumed ending of the Maya calendar), expose human anxieties and reveal the yearnings for a better, more secure hope. Indeed, while the threat of the end is inevitable, hope that the final destruction of humanity is avoidable runs through virtually all apocalyptic films.

For Christians, hope is not an optimistic belief in our capacity to meet every eventuality. Rather, hope derives its shape from trust in the God who has acted in Jesus Christ, who is working out his plan of redemption, and who will one day inaugurate a world free from ‘the old order of things’. Christians believe not in the end of the world, but in the beginning of a renewed world.

That hope frees us up to live expectantly and confidently, though realistically, in ways that seek to transform the here and now in line with what will be – not as an act of self-assertion, but as a response to God’s gracious promise.


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