Will the World End on December 21, 2012?

No.  Not according to Walter R. T. Witschey.

Dr. Witschey wrote to me after my recent sermon on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 in which I mentioned that some people think the world is going to end on December 21, 2012, because that’s what the Maya calendar “suggests.”  It was in that part of the sermon where I was talking about the Day of the Lord coming suddenly, like a thief in the night.

“That’s how it will be,” Paul says.  “That’s how it will happen.  But the only people it will catch off guard are those who are not expecting it.  They will be drunk, and snoring, and sleeping it off when the thief crawls through the window, but you will be wide-awake, sober as a schoolmarm, sitting on the front porch with your suitcases packed.  So, why should you worry about ‘when,’ and ‘where,’ and ‘how’ the End will come?  You’re ready!  You belong to the day, you belong to the light!  You don’t have to worry about a thief in the night!”  And so, Paul says, stay ready.  “Be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”  In other words, you who are Christian can protect yourselves against the anxiety of the end-times by clothing yourselves with great faith, great love, and great hope.  Those places where you are most vulnerable to attack—your heart, mind, and soul—will be shielded by that impenetrable armor.  “For God has not destined us for wrath,” Paul says, “but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And then I said:

That’s a good thing to remember, isn’t it, when Harold Camping tells us that the Rapture will occur on May 21, 2011, or the Maya calendar suggests the world will end on December 21, 2012?  What Paul is trying to tell us is that end-time prophecy is for others, not for us.  Its purpose, as Dr. Philpen has so clearly stated, is to warn those who are not ready, so that they might “get right with God now.”

And that’s where Dr. Witschey corrected me, ever so gently.  He wrote:

Dr. Somerville,

It was a pleasure to hear your sermon this morning, via Channel 8 in Farmville, VA.

There were a couple mentions of the Maya calendar, and the special calendar date in December 2012. The calendar has interested me greatly since I was ten years old.

All that you said was true, and offered with a smile…yet there is an important nuance here: although some writers claim, “the Maya calendar foretells the end of the world,” the truth, I believe, is that the Maya calendar and inscriptions, and those who make scholarly study of them, make no such claim or forecast.  Such claims (mostly in popular and self-serving forums) are based on an observation of a special date in the Maya count of days.

We write the Maya count-of-days, the ‘Long Count,’ as a five place base-20 numeral such as 12.19.18.16.1 for November 20, 2011 in the Gregorian calendar.  That calendar will, in just over a year, increment to 13.0.0.0.0 on December 21, or 23, or other nearby date (depending on how you match our two calendars.)  Neither the ancient hieroglyphic inscriptions, nor the modern Maya, nor any Maya archaeologists of standing, claim that this is the day the world ends.   Rather, the appropriate claim is that, just like Y2K in our calendar, or 100,000 miles on a car odometer, the next day is just the next day, and the beginning of a new calendar cycle. In the Maya calendar we will write it as 13.0.0.0.1 (and most likely will not need to postpone any of our appointments.)

Having picked that small nit, may I say your central message, “Be Prepared,” came through loud and clear.

With esteem, admiration, and thanks,

Walter

Walter R. T. Witschey
Maya Archaeologist
Professor of Anthropology and Science Education, Longwood University
Director Emeritus, Science Museum of Virginia

Thank you, Dr. Witschey.  I hope that millions of people around the world (and not only the seven who read my blog) will stand corrected.

Looking forward to 13.0.0.0.1!

Jim

The “Maturity” Checklist

My brother Scott has been serving as my mother’s “editor and publisher” recently, helping her sort through a lifetime’s worth of collected musings and publishing online those things that might be of interest to others.  This one was of interest to me: a “maturity checklist” designed to help me and my brothers know if we were ready to make it on our own.  It provides an interesting glimpse into that rugged, rural West Virginia life we were living in those days, in an old white farmhouse up on a hill with a big garden and lots of dogs, cats, ponies, rabbits, and chickens.

——————————————

You can know if you are grown-up enough to leave home and be on your own.

Can you: work eight hours in the hot sun, love God, take care of yourself and have enough strength left over to tend someone else?

Here’s the checklist for the six Somerville sons:

I CAN

USE CHAIN SAW SAFELY AND SHARPEN

BUILD CAMPFIRE AND KEEP IT SAFE

BUY MY OWN DOG,  DOG FOOD, SHOTS

FIX A COMPLETE MEAL FOR OTHERS

CHANGE A TIRE AND GET REPAIRS

READ FEVER THERMOMETER

FOLD SHEETS, PLAIN OR FITTED

HANG CURTAIN RODS

USE ELECTRIC DRILL

EARN MONEY

PACK A SUITCASE

SKIP A MEAL AND PRAY INSTEAD

TITHE

SAVE MONEY

SPLIT KINDLING

RIDE A HORSE

FEED DOG DAILY WITHOUT REMINDER

ADDRESS AN ENVELOPE

MOW GRASS

WRITE A LETTER

IRON A SHIRT

MULTIPLICATION TABLES

BOOKS OF THE BIBLE

54 PREPOSITIONS

PARTS OF SPEECH

TEN COMMANDMENTS

LORD’S PRAYER

USE CONCORDANCE

USE A DISHWASHER CORRECTLY

FOLD CLOTHES

SORT LAUNDRY INTO DARK AND LIGHT

USE LAUNDRY MACHINES AND CLOTHESLINE

TAKE OUT GARBAGE

USE AN ELECTRIC SANDER

WASH DISHES IN SINK

SCRUB OUT BATHTUB

SWISH-CLEAN TOILET

USE A CATALOG

USE A DICTIONARY

CLEAN SHOES

READ A BOOK

“CLEAN” A ROOM

HANG CLOTHES ON HANGERS

OVERCOME OBSTACLES

OVERCOME FATIGUE

OVERCOME DREARY WEATHER

DO ONE JOB AT A TIME

NOT AFRAID OF RAIN OR SNOW

AVOID SIDETRACKING

OVERCOME SLUMP

ACCEPT DISAPPOINTMENT

MAINTAIN PACE

KEEP IMPROVING

OVERCOME BOREDOM

—Mary Rice Whiting Somerville

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I’m still working on those 54 prepositions, but my chainsaw sharpening skills are strong.

Thanks, Mom.

Blushing with Pride

I’ve got to hand it to the members and friends of Richmond’s First Baptist Church.

On the first Sunday in October I stood in the pulpit and told them we had a budget deficit of nearly $200,000.  And then I said:

“In a church this size that’s not necessarily a cause for alarm, and frankly, given the state of the economy, it could be much more.  Still, it is a cause for concern, and we need to catch up.  When there’s not enough money people begin to talk about cutting programs or staff, and I don’t think any of us want that.  So, we’re going to take up a special offering on November 6 to catch up on our giving, but please don’t feel that you have to wait for that day to give.  If you’ve fallen behind in your own giving over the summer this might be the perfect day to write a check or click the link on our website that lets you give online

“People often tell me that if everybody would only tithe we would have enough money, and I agree.  If everybody would tithe—that is, if everybody would give 10 percent of their income back to God through the church—we would have more than enough money, even in times like these.  But everybody doesn’t tithe.  In fact I heard recently that in the average church some 40 percent of the congregation gives nothing at all.  To be fair to those people I don’t think it’s because they are greedy, I think it’s because they are afraid—afraid that if they give even ten percent of their income back to God there won’t be enough for them. 

I can sympathize with those people, especially in times like these, but let me remind you that in the Christian faith there is no place for that kind of fear.  We believe that everything we have comes from a good and loving God who has poured out his love upon us with such abundance we can never thank him enough.  To give back ten percent seems like a tiny thing compared to what he’s done for us; it really is only a token of our gratitude.  Not to give it is to say that we don’t really believe God can provide for our needs, and that we trust ourselves more than we trust him to handle our money. 

“That is a faithless and fearful response. 

“So let me ask you to look toward November 6 with more faith and less fear, in fact, let your gift on that day be a gift of fearless love.”

On every Sunday in the month of October I made a similar appeal, being reminded along the way that some people don’t give simply because they have lost their jobs, they have no income, and ten percent of nothing is nothing.  It’s not because they are fearful or faithless.   

That point was well taken.

Still, on November 6 those who could give did.  They came down the aisles and dropped their offerings into baskets at the front of the sanctuary and the rear of the balcony.  I was moved to see young people and old people, wealthy people and poor people, people who are long-time members and people who aren’t members at all shuffling forward to give.  In the end we took up a “Fearless Love” offering of $228,000, which means that in this Sunday’s bulletin we will show a budget surplus of $11,555.

I’m blushing with pride, and I spent a good bit of my time at this week’s annual meeting of the Baptist General Association of Virginia talking to other pastors and bragging on a church that rises to a challenge as magnificently as any I have ever known. 

Thank you, First Baptist, for your faithful and fearless love.