1968 was a difficult year: The Vietnam War was still raging, LBJ refused to run again, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, there were riots at the Chicago Democratic Convention. But there was one bright spot. In December: Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders – became the first humans to orbit the Moon.
On Christmas Eve night of 1968, the three astronauts broadcast a message while circling the moon, a message heard and seen by more people on earth than any other message previously. For this historic occasion, here is what they chose to say:
Bill Anders – “We are now approaching lunar sunrise and, for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
Jim Lovell – “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
Frank Borman – “And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land earth; and the gathering together of the waters He called seas: and God saw that it was good.
And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”
It is estimated that a quarter of the people alive on earth at the time saw — either live or delayed — this Christmas Eve transmission during the ninth orbit of the Moon. There was even a celebrated court case to try and stop any future transmissions from space that would mention God. Pope Paul VI would later tell one of the astronauts, “I have spent my entire life trying to say to the world what you did on Christmas Eve.”
Everyone was expecting to celebrate the triumph of science. Yet in the midst of a man made event came an opportunity to worship God.
2012 was a difficult year. At least two terrible storms: one struck Lynchburg the other, further north. At least two mass shootings: one in a movie theater and one in an elementary school. We still face uncertain economic times and seem headed for another crisis on January first. There is unrest and revolution in several parts of the world.
On Christmas Eve night of 2012, there are no astronauts circling the moon but there is the same God who created the heavens and the earth. There is the same God who sends His only Son born among us in a stable, surrounded by Mary, Joseph and a handful of shepherds.
Everyone was expecting a normal night…
The astronauts could have just wished everyone a merry Christmas from the moon and be done with it but instead they chose to think imaginatively and take a risk. They gave honor to God.
On the night Christ was born, I like to think that when the shepherds arrived, they looked into the eyes of Jesus and were forever changed. Aren’t we all? They still have their jobs to do but something changed for them that night.
Like the shepherds, we still have our jobs to do. But at this time we remember that we too have the opportunity to look into the eyes of Jesus and be forever changed.
In 1968, a painful and traumatic year, three astronauts still had their jobs to do but they chose to also worship God.
For 2012, another painful and often traumatic year, we too have the opportunity to make a choice. We still have our jobs to do but in the midst of it all, we can choose to worship God. We have the opportunity to remember and witness the birth of Jesus Christ. And like the shepherds, we can and will be forever changed.
Frank Borman: “And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land earth; and the gathering together of the waters He called seas: and God saw that it was good. And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”