On December 21, 1968, I stood in the front yard of my childhood home, only about fifty miles from Cape Canaveral in Florida, and watched a Saturn V rocket take mankind to the Moon for the first time. This was the Apollo 8 mission, which successfully circled the Moon ten times before returning its crew to the Earth. Most people don’t remember much about Apollo 8, overshadowed by the Apollo 11 Moon-landing less than a year later, but I remember that night vividly.
On Christmas Eve, while the astronauts orbited the Moon, I joined millions of people around the world in watching the live broadcast from lunar orbit. “We were told that on Christmas Eve we would have the largest audience that had ever listened to a human voice,” recalled Commander Frank Borman during the 40th anniversary celebrations in 2008. “And the only instructions that we got from NASA was to do something appropriate.”
The Christmas Eve Broadcast from the Moon
This is what Commander Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders shared with the world.
Anders began the address saying:
For all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send you.
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.
Lovell then said,
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.
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 called the Seas: and God saw that it was good.
Borman then closed the telecast saying, “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.”
The Bigger Picture of Christmas
There is a great lesson we can learn from this fifty-two-year-old broadcast. Christmas is not just about Jesus’ coming to save us from our sins. Of course, Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection is about reconciling the lost, but it is the beginning of so much more.
He has come to redeem the whole creation, to make all things new. By putting Christmas together with Genesis chapter 1, the broadcast reminds us of a bigger picture.
We still have some of the original glory of the creation around us, and it can make us forget the far-reaching damage caused by Adam’s original sin. As Theologian Mike Wittmer writes in his book, Heaven Is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God,
The trajectory of human sin ricochets into the farthest corners of creation, destroying first ourselves, then human society, and finally the animals and even the earth itself.
It is God’s goal through his son Jesus Christ to restore this broken world. All of it. The people, the animals, and even the dirt. That work began with a Baby, born in a manger, and celebrated at Christmastime.
Our Role in the Christmas Play
We, as followers of this newborn King, have a role—a part to play—in this grand production. While we understand that the full restoration awaits the second coming of Christ, we have responsibilities in the here and now. Warren Cole Smith and John Stonestreet explain it this way in their book, Restoring All Things: God’s Audacious Plan to Change the World through Everyday People:
First, we are ambassadors of the full redemptive work of Jesus Christ. This includes, but is also more than, the rescue of individual souls. The story, as told in Scripture, is the restoration of all things that culminates in the New Heavens and New Earth, when all wrongs will be made right again.
Second, we are not only saved from sin and death but also saved to the life God intended for His image bearers from the beginning. Humans were placed in the world to care for it, and though the fall frustrates our efforts, Christ restores that identity and calling [emphasis in original].
As IFWE contributor James Clark said, “In one sense we rest in Christ’s finished work on the cross, but in another sense our task is just beginning. Each of us has something to contribute to the great work of restoration.” When the work of restoration is complete, the Earth will truly be “good” again, and we get to a part of that.
The message of Christmas, connected with Genesis, and proclaimed from the Moon by the Apollo 8 astronauts, is this: The Earth was good once, and it will be again. Isn’t that amazing?
From the staff of IFWE: Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you—all of you on the good Earth.