At 7:33 a.m. on Saturday, February 20, 1971, WOWO radio station in Ft. Wayne, Indiana was playing “Doesn’t Somebody Want to be Wanted” by the Partridge Family when suddenly the Emergency Broadcasting Service interrupted the song. Now as some of you may know, back in the day, the Emergency Broadcast Service would interrupt the radio and TV broadcasts for their test, “This is a test of the emergency broadcast system, etc.”; however, on this day the message was different. The announcement read: THIS IS AN EMERGENCY ACTION NOTIFICATION (EAN) DIRECTED BY THE PRESIDENT. NORMAL BROADCASTING WILL CEASE IMMEDIATELY. ALL STATIONS WILL BROADCAST EAN MESSAGE ONE PRECEDED BY THE ATTENTION SIGNAL, PER FCC RULES. ONLY STATIONS HOLDING NDEA MAY STAY ON AIR IN ACCORD WITH THEIR STATE EBS PLAN.
Simply put, this was no test! This was the real thing. It would seem that World War III was underway. People panicked. Ran for their shelters and basements. Could it really be? Answer: No. What happened? It seems that the messages that were to be broadcast to the radio stations were held at the Cheyenne Mountain military installation in Colorado. There were three of them. One with the test message and the other two with actual emergency messages. All of them hung in a row on three separate hooks. The operator that day, one Mr. Wayland S. Eberhardt, grabbed the wrong tape. He was later quoted by the New York Times as saying “I can’t imagine how the heck I did it.” The time between the original message and the, “Oops we made a mistake message,” has been dubbed “The longest five minutes in radio.” A broadcaster in Dallas said, “This made us just angry as heck. You can’t play around with things like this. If we had gone on the air and broadcast this alert as being from the President of the United States, some old people would have checked in right then.”
Two good things came out of that event. First, the military made the decision to place the recordings of the actual emergency messages in a file drawer away from the test message so that such an incident could not occur in the future; and second, the world was spared from having to listen to the Partridge Family that early in the morning.
Some folks woke up this past Wednesday and thought the world had come to an end, but personally, I’m still keeping my eye out for the Zombie Apocalypse, which will surely be the end of the world as we know it. We’ve talked about this before, folks always looking for and predicting the end. Some just see it as everything going up in a reverse Big Bang, while others look for the Second coming of Christ and the rapture of God’s people. Either way, it has been a topic of conversation for – not years – but millennia. One of my favorites:
“‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’
She has become a dwelling for demons
and a haunt for every impure spirit,
a haunt for every unclean bird,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal.
Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her:
death, mourning and famine.
She will be consumed by fire,
for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.
“When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry:
“‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,
you mighty city of Babylon!
Sounds like something out of a Stephen King novel, but it is actually from the Book of Revelation.
For years, many have read those words and tried to discern what they mean. Some have even stated that the “Great Babylon” is the United States and that scripture is predicting our fall.
The same can be said for the passage from Luke’s Gospel that we read: “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and, `The time is near!’ Do not go after them. When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end, will not follow immediately…. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.” What could all this possibly mean?
Like so many others, you can spend a lifetime worrying about the end or trying to figure out when all this will come to pass, but in the end, what is of greater importance is whether or not you have lived out the life God has given you, according to His will.
You might say, “Well, Fr. John, I’m not too concerned about the end of the world.” Fine. How about this: you have your five year plan for your life all worked out – goals, financial status, weight loss, etc – you’ve got it planned out to a “T”, but what if, in the midst of that planning, you failed to care for the widows and orphans in your midst? You failed to feed the hungry? Clothe the naked? Share the gospel message with others? What if you knew the financial yield of your IRA down to the penny on the day of your retirement, but failed to extend your hand in love to those around you? Do you think Jesus will say, “Well done, good and faithful financial planner, enter the glory that has been prepared for you.”
You say, “Well, Fr. John, I don’t have a five year plan, much less an IRA, so this really doesn’t apply to me.” And I say, “Not so fast.” Do you have plans for your next day off? Got it worked out what you might be doing or just happily thinking about a day away from the boss? Have you wondered if you might have enough left over to take the kids to a movie? I hope you do. Truly!, I hope you are joyfully looking forward to living your life, but, this past week, have you said your prayers? Have you stopped long enough to listen for the voice of God? (And just in case you’re hedging on your answer, this morning in church doesn’t count!) I’m not asking if you spent an hour each day in deep meditation, but did you stop long enough each day to pray even the Lord’s Prayer? “Thank you, Fr. John, I now feel sufficiently guilty.”
I’m not saying you shouldn’t plan, you must be responsible; and I’m not trying to make you feel guilty either, live your life and enjoy it to its fullest. In addition, I’m not saying that the end of days is not something to consider and be aware of, but Jesus and John in the Book of Revelation or any of the other apocalyptic messages were not given to us so that we would sit around and be harassed by the future. The main point behind all of it was not to have us focus on “The End” or the future, but instead, to focus on our end.
It’s not, have you identified the Great Babylon, but have you identified your place in God’s plan?
It’s not, have you discovered the person of the anti-Christ, but have you discovered the person of Jesus Christ?
It’s not, can you afford to retire early, but are you loving God each and every day?
The focus really has nothing to do with the end of the world, your five year plan, or your weekend plans. It is about your relationship with God, today, and It’s about encountering, serving, blessing, being blessed by Jesus here and now.
Some of you may be remembering that I preached a similar message just a few weeks ago, and I did, but I’ve seen and heard so much fear these past several days that I thought we could all use the reminder. It’s not that I don’t understand that fear, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that right here and right now is all that we have.
Yes, we must be responsible in our daily lives and we must plan for the future, but an unhealthy preoccupation about the end of days, about the future, about the “what if’s?” can lead us astray from the opportunity of today. To paraphrase a bit, G. K. Chesterton said that there are many people who know “the last word” about everything and the first word about nothing. Fussing about “the last things” must never displace the first things of Jesus, the great commandments, “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
The end of days, the end of the year, the end of the week, the end of this sermon – yes, they are things to be considered, but they should never lead you astray, distract you from where God – not has worked or will work – but where God is working.
One of my favorite sayings of St. Josemaría Escrivá and then I’ll quit: “Don’t waste your time and your energy — which belong to God — throwing stones at the dogs that bark at you on your way. Ignore them.” (The Way, #14) These worries, these fears… are nothing more than barking dogs. Ignore them. You, be about the business of Christ.
Let us pray:
Lord, for tomorrow and its needs,
We do not pray;
Keep us, our God, from stain of sin
Just for today.
Let us both diligently work,
And duly pray.
Let us be kind in word and deed,
Just for today.
Let us be slow to do our will,
Prompt to obey;
Help us to sacrifice ourselves
Just for today.
And if today our tide of life
Should ebb away,
Give us thy Sacraments divine,
Sweet Lord today.
So for to-morrow and its needs
We do not pray,
But keep us, guide us, love us, Lord,
Just for to-day.
(This prayer is from the St. Augustine Prayer Book)