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Apollo 8

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1

Fifty years ago next week, the spacecraft Apollo 8 was orbiting the Moon.  It was a first.  No humans had ever ventured so far from our planet; no mortal eyes had ever before seen the Earth rising in the distance, a beautiful cloud-swathed ball of blue above the grey lunar horizon.  The view of “Earthrise” became one of the most famous images ever captured.

I remember that Christmas Eve so vividly - we were staying with my grandparents, and like countless others all over the globe, we followed Apollo 8 enthralled.  Snow was falling outside.

As the world watched and listened, the crew broadcast a live Christmas message.  After commenting on the awe-inspiring view from the capsule window, they read out the first ten verses of Genesis, in the King James translation.  “In the beginning”, we heard William Anders say against the hiss and crackle, “God created the heaven and the earth.  And the earth was without form, and void; and God said, let there be light...”  The words had an astonishing, unforgettable resonance.  Here was humanity experiencing the grandeur of the Universe in a completely new way, and we were hearing from the book which introduces its Maker.

Later, NASA were sued by the National Secular Society for mixing church and state; the case was dismissed by the Supreme Court. The crew went on to win an Emmy for their broadcasts.

With a view of the world that we’d never had before, no reading could have been more appropriate than Genesis 1. There we learn that God - the God made known in the Bible - is the Creator of all.  We learn from the same chapter that our Earth is specially precious to Him: Genesis is much more interested in our home than in the stars, whose creation is covered only in a single line.  Thus there is a wonderfully close fit between this text and the view of our planet out of the capsule window: our home a blue jewel in the dark sky, in contrast to the barren grey of the moon in the foreground.

There was also a great appropriateness in the timing of this broadcast (even though that hadn’t been NASA’s intention).  For Christmas underlines the special significance to God not just of Earth but of its inhabitants.  It was for our sake and our salvation that He came down from heaven.  “Lo, within a manger lies He Who built the starry skies.”  Nothing could indicate our preciousness to God more than this!  And He went on to die for the rebellious inhabitants of our planet. ‘Hands that flung stars into space’ were ‘to cruel nails surrendered’.

Praise Him for His amazing treatment of us!

You can watch a clip of that Christmas Eve broadcast here.

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