Advent, Attentiveness, and the Admiration of the Apollo 8 Assignment: A Complimentary Commemoration
By Joe Colletti | November 17, 2018 |
Commemorating Advent is an annual event of the Christian Church. The Advent Season this year begins on Sunday, December 2 and always ends on December 24, Christmas Eve. Christians are encouraged to be attentive by keeping a four-week reflective vigil to prepare for the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas.
Commemorating Apollo 8 50 years later can be an integrative spiritual experience for Christians this year because the mesmerizing and majestic mission of Apollo 8, which was to prepare a future Apollo mission to land on the moon by testing various vehicle and spacecraft systems, occurred 50 years ago during the last week of the coming Advent season. Apollo 8 launched on December 21, 1968 and took nearly three days (68 hours) to travel the distance to the moon, which happened on December 24, Christmas Eve.
A complimentary commemoration of these events during Advent can provide us opportunities to view the earth and all of its human inhabitants differently as we seek to carry out the teachings of the incarnate Christ in our daily lives.
Inhabitants of the earth heard the word of God proclaimed from the heavens at the time of Christ’s birth and also while Apollo 8 was in lunar orbit.
During the final orbit around the moon, Astronaut William Anders said,
“. . . for all people back on earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send to you.” The television camera aboard Apollo 8 then panned the lunar surface as Anders and fellow astronauts recited in a medley the first 10 verses of Genesis.
Astronaut Anders read
“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, let there be light. And there was light. And God saw the light and it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness.”
Astronaut James Lovell read
“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 that firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”
Astronaut Frank Borman read
“And God said let the waters under the heavens be gathered together in 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.
Astronaut Borman then said
“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.”
Whereas the astronauts read the first 10 verses of Genesis chapter 1, the first 10 verses of Luke chapter 2 are often read on Christmas Eve during services to celebrate and commemorate the birth of Christ, as was surely the case on Christmas Eve, 1968. These verses begin with Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem and end with the shepherds, and perhaps others, hearing words spoken from the heavens after Christ is born
“There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were terrified. But the angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel,
praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Viewing the Earth and Humanity Differently
Together, Advent and Apollo 8 provide us a unique concurrent opportunity to view the earth and all of its human inhabitants differently during the coming season.
Astronaut Anders captured an image of the earth while in the heavens on December 24, Christmas Eve that changed how we see the earth forever. Humanity had never seem a photo like this. The image was entitled “Earthrise” because it showed the earth rising over the moon’s horizon.
The photo showed a living blue planet rising over a dead lunar horizon. The earth, however, reduced to a Christmas ornament-sized sphere looked fragile and isolated just hanging half in shadow and suspended in the middle of black nothingness.
The photo also changed how we saw humanity. Not only were we shown a small, blue, finite earth half buried in shadow but a globe filled with water that 3.5 billion people depended on for life and billions and billions of other creatures including animals, mammals, and all kinds of planet life.
Upon looking at the photo, media and commentators repeatedly stated in their immediate event coverage “on the way to the moon we discovered the earth.” We were able to see a photo of our home planet without borders. We were also able to see a photo that united us by capturing all of us living on a shared earth.
Advent offers us an opportunity to dive deeply into a season of quiet reflection and discernment regarding God’s incarnation in Christ. The incarnation is a fundamental teaching of Christianity understood as Christ dwelling among humanity yesterday and today through his followers.
The teachings of the incarnate Christ teach us to view the earth and humanity differently. He proclaimed that the “meek . . . will inherit the earth (Matt 5.5) and that we “are the salt of the earth (Matt 5.13). He told us to “love one another as I have loved you (John 15.12),” “love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12.31),” and “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3.18).”
The Earthrise photo revealed a seemingly fragile and suspended earth in which billions of people inhabit and all whom Christ loves. We are to love all our neighbors as ourselves and not just love in word or talk, but in deed and truth.
Let this Advent Season be a complimentary commemoration of our admiration of the Apollo 8 assignment and the annual commemorative attentiveness that followers of Christ give to the Advent Season. As we attend to the approaching season, let us quietly reflect on and discern ways that we can view the earth and our fellow human beings differently, so that we can adhere to the teachings of the incarnate Christ unlike ever before.