by AT News Team

Despite the public attention given to apocalyptic themes this week, a survey of sermon topics on a random sample of Seventh-day Adventist Church web sites shows that few pastors plan to speak about the end of the world this Sabbath (December 22, 2012). When the Sabbath begins on Friday night, December 21, it will be the day that the Mayan long-count calendar ends and about which many cataclysmic predictions have been published, although almost none by conventional Christians.
 
Unexpectedly harsh weather events, the economic uncertainty and political tensions, two predictions of the rapture by fundamentalist radio evangelist Harold Camping, even Roman Catholic discussion of the prophecies of Saint Malachy, and certainly the series of mass shootings in the United States recently have all contributed to unprecedented attention to the end of the world. Major movies and novels, television programs and magazine writers have at various times touched on the subject which in recent decades was often left entirely to Adventist evangelists.
 
One in four Americans told the respected Ipsos polling company earlier in 2012 that they believe the world will come to an end “during my lifetime.” Worldwide the same response came from only 14 percent of randomly-selected respondents. The really surprising thing in 2012 has been the increased interest among secular people in this topic.
 
The largest number of Adventist churches in North America (73 percent) will focus on Christmas this Sabbath. Many will have musical celebrations of one kind or another and very little preaching. The most common plan is some mix of singing Christmas carols, reading the Christmas story from the Gospels and performances by musicians.
 
Only four percent of the sermon topics found by Adventist Today in its survey of church web sites related to apocalyptic themes such as the end of the world, or the second coming of Christ or signs of the times. An equal number of churches—but not the same congregations—planned to have communion on this Sabbath nearest to Christmas. About one in five churches planned on a wide variety of other topics which cannot be clustered under any specific category.
 
Children singing, youth choirs, guest musicians and banquets of various kinds were all planned for “Christmas Sabbath,” a term widely used. Some asked people to come for breakfast instead of stay for lunch. Some churches have announced all day programs with concerts and drama in the afternoon until sundown. Others will have a Christmas play during the worship hour.
 
“There does not seem to be even the debate about whether or not we should acknowledge Christmas that I remember as a child,” a middle-aged, second-generation pastor told Adventist Today. “It is simply expected.” A number of the churches that announced Christmas programs on their web sites are those with a reputation for being particularly conservative.
 
Only one pastor has announced a sermon that appears to deal directly with the shooting deaths of 20 school children and six of their teachers in Newtown, Connecticut. But many of the announced topics were actually posted prior to that event. “Even if the focus is on Christmas,” another pastor told Adventist Today, “I think most preachers will work in a reference to what happened there. It is a trauma to your people even if they live thousands of miles away. You have to speak to it or you really are failing them.”
 
Adventists join other Christians this weekend remembering the arrival of the promised Messiah in the form of a child and thinking about how fragile life is in this world, especially for children. “It is a time of pain and hope,” a New Jersey pastor with families still displaced from Hurricane Sandy, told Adventist Today.