“Merry Christmas and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”
The 1960s were a time of great promise and idealism in our country and throughout the world. For example, in 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. electrified the nation with the soaring rhetoric of his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, the climax of the March on Washington. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of that moment of grace for our nation earlier this year.
Sadly, the 1960s were also a time of great turmoil and sorrow, 1968 especially. That year, both Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, devastating riots broke out all across the country – including five days of looting, burning, and destruction here in the District of Columbia – and social upheaval appeared to threaten everything. The hope of the beginning of the decade seemed lost as people became disillusioned and fearful.
But on Christmas Eve of that year, hope and joy and all manner of wonder were found again in the glory of God’s creation and in a small witness of faith to the entire world. It was on that day 45 years ago today when mankind first journeyed from Earth to reach another heavenly body as Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the Moon, entered lunar orbit. But man did not venture out alone – the word of God went too.
That evening, in a live television broadcast to the entire world, with the beauty of the Earth rising above the lunar surface, Lunar Module Pilot William Anders announced, “For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you.”
Then he began, reading, “In the beginning, God created the heaven 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.”
Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell followed, “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.”
In conclusion, Commander Frank Borman read, “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 the ‘Seas’ and God saw that it was good.”
Borman then added, “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.”
And so it was that mankind’s greatest technological achievement to date was marked with a shared act of faith to the world. When they returned home, the crew received an anonymous telegram saying, “Thank you Apollo 8. You saved 1968.”
No matter how dark the night – perhaps especially in the darkest of nights, as in the upheaval of 1968 – Christmas is a time of great joy. With the Child of Bethlehem, a great Light shines forth in a new creation. The glory of God is a wonderful message – one that can be shared anytime and anywhere, from Earth to the Moon.