1968 was a difficult year. Vietnam War raging. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy assassinated. Riots at the Chicago Democratic Convention. US Athletes protesting at the Olympics. However, there was at least one bright spot. In December: Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell and Bill Anders – became the first humans to orbit the Moon.
On Christmas Eve 1968, the world watched a live broadcast from the three astronauts as they circled the moon. This message from space was seen and heard by more people on earth than any other broadcast ever. What did the astronauts say? What follows is the transcript:
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 saw 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 mentioning 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.”
1968 was a difficult year but three astronauts expected to celebrate the triumph of science instead provided the world an opportunity to worship God.
2017 was also a difficult year. Catastrophic storms, earthquakes and other natural disasters. Mass shootings at churches, shopping malls, schools and parking lots. Athletes protesting at football games. There is deep societal and political divisiveness, mistrust and rampant violence.
On Christmas Eve night of 2017, there will be no astronauts circling the moon but there is the same opportunity to worship the God who created the heavens and the earth. The same God who provided for us the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, born in a cattle stall, surrounded by Mary, Joseph and a handful of shepherds. This precious gift can change our lives forever.
In 1968, three astronauts could have simply wished everyone a merry Christmas from the moon but instead chose to think imaginatively and take a risk. They gave honor to God. We too have the opportunity to think imaginatively and take a risk. In doing so, we give honor to God.
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.”