In this catechism post, I’ve prepared a few responses to popular questions about the end-times hysteria surrounding the Maya calendars, the year 2012 and eschatology in general. It is intentionally concise and designed for use by pastors and laity as a bulletin insert or newsletter article. If you find this pithy piece to be of use and service in your home or congregation, it is yours for the taking. After all, all theology is plagiarism.
What do Mayan calendars, mayonnaise and mayors have in common, aside from the fact that they begin with the letters “M,” “A” and “Y”? Zero. This also happens to be the precise amount of doomsday predictions actually made by Maya calendars, despite what you might have heard on the airwaves or seen at the box office.
Over the past several years, the mysterious Maya calendar has remained at the epicenter of pop-culture and pop-Christianity’s chronic addiction to End Times mayhem. Men like Hal Lindsey and Harold Camping have routinely proven it really is mad, mad, mad, mad world. Although these predictions will go the way of the Mayans, mankind’s obsession with conspiracy theories and end-times predictions, sadly, will never go away. So, here are a few questions to help clarify the present issue of the Maya calendar with the sobering clarity of Jesus’ Word on His return in glory.
What is the Maya Calendar?
It is a system of keeping time used by the Mayans in parts of Guatemala and Mexico in what is known as the Mesoamerican era, although many highland villages still use similar forms of horology. It was primarily based off a 260 and a 365 day count, incorporating cycles of 13 and typically round in format. The circular design of their calendar also reveals their concept of time, influenced by mythology, astronomy, recurring natural events and a cyclical interpretation of the world around them. The Maya calendar used their mythological dating of creation and the world’s origin when arranging their calendar. In addition to these components, the Mayans also used what is known as Long Counting.
“The Maya would routinely commemorate Period Endings with the erection of a monument or perhaps the dedication of a building (a Period Ending is when the last two or three places in the Long Count are zeroes). The more zeroes, the bigger the celebration…
…So what’s so important about December 21, 2012? The Long Count date will be 126.96.36.199.0, which is not only a major period ending, but a recurrence of the date of creation as well. But, as sure as the sun rises, the next day will be 188.8.131.52.1, and the cycle will continue. There are different lines of evidence from the sites of Tikal, Palenque, and Yaxchilán that the calendrical cycle will continue until at least 184.108.40.206.0, or A.D. July 13, 4378, at which point it would either reset to zero or begin a higher order of reckoning using six places instead of five (e.g. 220.127.116.11.0.0)” – Mark Alan Wright – http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/A-Mayanist-Debunks-2012.
Does the Maya Calendar end on December 21, 2012?
No. Like all calendar systems, the Maya calendar is complex. Scholars and archaeologists continue to study these artifacts as new information surfaces. In a recent discovery last May, archaeologists documented further evidence against the alleged theory of the world’s end on December 21st.
In fact, due to the difference between the Gregorian and Maya calendar, some scholars claim that the end of the Maya calendar has already come and gone on October 28, 2011. As scholar, Mark Wright points out: “Contrary to popular belief, they did not predict the world would come to a cataclysmic end or that there would be a devastating reversal of the earth’s magnetic poles. Nor did they prophesy of a galactic alignment, a harmonic convergence, or even a winter solstice…These ideas have no basis in indigenous beliefs, ancient or modern. To be clear, there are no ancient texts, no legitimate modern oral traditions, or anything in between that lends credence to any of these claims” – Mark Alan Wright – http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/A-Mayanist-Debunks-2012.
Will December 21st, 2012 be a day of death and destruction?
No, at least not like it’s been hyped out to be. The Mayans believed in a series of four previous “ages” each revolving around the destruction and rebirth of creation, much like the Aztecs and the Legend of the Suns. However, much of Mayan mythology is largely unknown and historical dates are either unknown or unverifiable, a clear contrast to the events of the historical record of the New Testament. The major events of Jesus’ life and work are verifiable for these things did not happen in a corner (Acts 26:26). Unlike Mayan mythology, Christianity is open to empirical investigation and our faith is founded on the most reliable set of historical events in our knowledge of the ancient world: Jesus’ death and resurrection.
And though we do not know the day or the hour of Christ’s return, Christians can be confident that when He comes again, it will not occur in the sensational manner depicted by Hollywood. For those in Christ there is no need for despair or doubt. Jesus’ teaching on the end times is to prepares us for His return and give comfort, not excite fear and confusion.
Where did the frenzy surrounding the Mayan Calendar originate?
In the Last Days, people prey on others’ insecurities exciting fear and instilling doubt. The recent Maya calendar madness is similar to the Y2K-aos we saw in 2000. Media hucksters and snake oil scholars will say or write anything to make headlines or meet the bottom line. Proponents typically draw upon unreliable sources and questionable sources while the philosophical underpinnings flow out of New Age mysticism, astrology, and Eastern philosophy. There really is nothing new under the sun.
How should Christians react to this, and other end-times predictions?
First of all, we should discern the times we live in. Since Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are living in the Last Days. And in the last days many will turn away from the truth and find false teachers to sooth the Old Adam’s itching ears (2 Timothy 4:2-4), no matter how it’s repackaged. Jesus also predicted that in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33) but to fear not, for he has overcome the world and has promised to always be with His Church (Matthew 28:18-20).
Secondly, anyone who attempts to predict or claim confidence in knowing the date of Jesus’ return is sorely mistaken teaching contrary to Jesus’ own teaching. Based on the Scripture’s lucid witness, we know that 1) Jesus will return (Acts 1:7); 2) neither we, nor the angels nor even the Son of God, but only the Father knows the exact time (Mark 13:32); and that therefore 3) we should be prepared, keep watch and stay awake (Matthew 25, Mark 13), always being prepared to give a reasoned defense (apologia) for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15).
And finally, though man has twisted Jesus’ words causing great folly and error, we do not on that account throw out the doctrine altogether. Rather, we confess this article of doctrine faithfully each week in the Creeds. There is no better preparation for Christ’s second Advent than his ongoing Advent in the Holy Supper and the living voice of the Gospel. In the Divine Service Christ continues to dwell among us preparing us for His return. Ultimately, this is the chief purpose for Jesus’ teaching on the End Times. Not to cause confusion and despair, but give consolation and hope. In mercy, he delays his return (2 Peter 3:9). And until He does, He keeps our feet from stumbling and presents us as blameless in His presence (Jude 24-25). Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:20).