The apocalypse is coming

Dec. 21, 2012, will mark "the ending of time as we know it." That's according to Jose Arguelles, whose 1987 The Mayan Factor sparked a frenzy that will only escalate this year. On that date, the Mayan calendar completes a 5,126-year cycle. What happens then?

By Jim Denison

Some warn that Planet X, or Nibiru, will collide with us or otherwise wreak havoc. Astronomers disagree: such a close object, if it existed, would already be visible in the night sky.

Others predict that a geomagnetic reversal will transpose the north and south poles, with cataclysmic results. However, such reversals take as much as 7,000 years to complete and do not start at any particular moment.

Still others claim that the star Betelgeuse will explode as a supernova next year. But astronomers say there is no way to predict this event within 100,000 years. The star would need to be within 25 light years of Earth to affect us; it is roughly 600 light years away.

Here's what we do know. The Mayan Long Count calendar began in 3114 B.C., marking time in 394-year periods known as Baktuns. Thirteen was a sacred number; they calculated that the 13th Baktun period would end on Dec. 21, 2012.

We're OK so far. As NASA explains: "Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after Dec. 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on Dec. 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period. Then -- just as your calendar begins again on Jan. 1 -- another long-count period begins."

Here's the problem: a stone tablet discovered in the 1960s predicts the return of a Mayan god at the end of the 13th period. Last Nov. 24, archaeologists discovered another brick that referred to Dec. 21, 2012. Out of 15,000 registered Mayan glyphs, that's all we have to frighten us. But for some, it's enough.

Alternately, some say that next Dec. 21 will mark the beginning of a new age of higher spirituality and consciousness. According to one, "the earth, the sun, and the galactic center would come into direct alignment. And a new world would be birthed out of the womb of the Milky Way, from the black hole that sits at the center." But NASA disagrees: "Each December the Earth and sun align with the approximate center of the Milky Way Galaxy but that is an annual event of no consequence."

To sum up, experts seem to think that nothing of predictable significance will happen on Dec. 21, and assure us that the year will end as expected.

While I don't know a Mayan glyph from a cricket bat, I think there's more to the story. If you believe in Jesus' ascension, you should believe in his return. As the apostles watched Jesus rise into the sky, two angels said to them, "This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).

When will he "come back?" Only God knows: "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, but only the Father" (Matthew 24:36). Here's what we do know: we're one day closer to the Second Coming than ever before.

The Christmas season we've just concluded is commonly called "Advent," from the Latin adventus, "return." While we focus on Jesus' first coming, the Christians who first observed Advent focused on his second.

As C. S. Lewis observed, those who have made the greatest difference in this world were those who focused most on the next. Jonathan Edwards resolved "never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump." G. Campbell Morgan agreed: "Every morning when I awaken I remind myself that I must be ready to meet God today."

What should we do about the end of the world? Here's Jesus' answer: "Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come" (Matt. 24:42). John could pray, "Come, Lord Jesus" (Rev. 22:20). Can you?

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.