“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
-December 24, 1968-
Apollo 8 Astronaut Frank Borman “had been keeping the spacecraft pointing down to look at the Moon’s surface, but had to roll it around for a navigation sighting by (Astronaut James) Lovell.
As the lunar horizon hove into view, (Astronaut Bill) Anders was startled to see a glowing blue and white ball swim into view – the Earth.”
(Source: https://www.honeysucklecreek.net/msfn_missions/Apollo_8_mission/hl_apollo8.html, Lunar Orbit 4)
Commemorating Advent begins tomorrow Sunday, December 2 and ends on December 24, Christmas Eve. Christians are encouraged to be attentive by keeping a three-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 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.
Contemplating the Earth Differently
A complimentary commemoration of these events during Advent can provide us opportunities to contemplate the earth differently as we seek to carry out the teachings of Christ Jesus in our daily lives.
Bill 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 seen a photo like this. The image has been 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.
Looking at the earth from the view of the astronauts provides us opportunities for reflection about earth. As the lunar horizon hove into view, they were startled to see the earth as a glowing blue and white ball swim into view. The sight of earth came with a force of revelation for the astronauts who were unprepared for what they saw.
They were the first to see the earth in a way that changed how we see the earth forever. They had a chance to see the earth unlike everything else that surrounded it. Astronaut Borman later recalled,
“I happened to glance out of one of the still-clear windows just at the moment the Earth appeared over the lunar horizon. It was the most beautiful, heart-catching sight of my life, one that sent a torrent of nostalgia, of sheer homesickness, surging through me. It was the only thing in space that had any color to it. Everything else was either black or white, but not the earth.”
The sight of the earth captured by the photo also came with the force of revelation to inhabitants of the earth once televised and circulated throughout the planet. 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 Christ teach us to view the earth differently. The Psalmist cried out “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it (Psalm 24.1) and Christ taught us how to honor such scriptures. 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 Psalmist also cried out “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love (Psalm 33.5) and Christ taught “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5.5),” and told us “This, then, is how you should pray:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
(Matthew 6. 9-10),”
and proclaimed, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Matthew 28.18).”
The incarnate Christ also proclaimed, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children (Matthew 11.25).
During the Advent season, you are encouraged to quietly reflect on and discern ways that you can view earth differently. The Earthrise photo revealed a seemingly fragile and suspended world in which billions of people inhabit and all whom Christ loves.
You are also encouraged to think back when you were a little child yearning to open your Christmas gifts on Christmas morning. In that same spirit, may one of the inner gifts that you open on Christmas be from the Lord of heaven and earth that reveals some hidden things because of your reflection and discernment during this coming complimentary commemoration of Advent and Apollo 8. May this divine gift help you adhere to the teachings of Christ about the earth unlike ever before.