Here is what passed for convivial holiday conversation at our house this year:
“Are they from Mexico?”
“Are they expired?”
“OK, then. I’ll take a few.”
Forget the present exchange on Christmas Eve; my husband and I exchanged antibiotics, as he turned the corner on his bronchitis while I began my own journey with a head cold. This was not unexpected news. I have spent most of my life being ill over Christmas. One of the reasons I should have suspected the impending doom of 2018 in the first place was because I was perfectly well during the last holiday season. Ending the year with illness is a good sign for the New Year ahead. All is as it should be.
While I will not miss 2018, the year did offer a few highlights. For instance, Alex and Jack’s wedding was a noteworthy celebration. We also ended the year with a notable anniversary, much heralded in our neck of the woods, but largely ignored everywhere else: the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8 space flight. You know you are close to NASA when all denominations sit down for a Christmas service with a message that centers on the Space Program. I was three when Apollo 8 was launched on December 21, 1968, became the first manned spacecraft to leave low Earth orbit, reach and orbit the Moon – on Christmas Eve , no less- and return. Apollo 8’s crew of three sent us back the first actual pictures of our planet and it was one of the first Christmases I remember because, not only did I get my precious white stuffed cat, but I did battle with a Bozo 3-D Bop Bag that Santa left. The first time I knocked him down, he came right back and bopped me on the head. Life lesson: clowns are evil.
On Christmas Eve 1968, millions of people saw their first true image of Earth, as they heard Command Module Pilot James A. Lovell, saying, “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring, and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.” As a three-year old, I could appreciate Apollo’s pretty pictures of Earth, which Lunar Module Pilot William A. Anders said reminded him of a Christmas tree ornament. It was Anders who took the famous “Earthrise” photo, remarking that the planet looked “really very fragile.” As an adult, I appreciate this fragility and the greater human significance of seeing our planet for the first time. Years later, Lovell’s son, Jeff, told reporters, “They went to explore the moon, but they discovered the Earth on that mission.” The astronauts showed us that Earth was the only thing in space that had any color. As Commander Lovell put it, “our home world is simply ‘a grand oasis’.” From the moon, we looked small, too. Seven months later, Neil Armstrong standing on the lunar surface would note that he could blot out the Earth with his thumb. When asked if that made him feel really big, he replied, ‘No, it made me feel really, really small.”
The Apollo 8 astronauts were tasked with sending a “suitable message” back to Earth during their Christmas Eve broadcast. The Houston Chronicle reported that all of these three brilliant men were stumped with what such a message would be, when a reporter’s wife thankfully steered them away from singing “Jingle Bells,” and suggested they read the first ten verses from Genesis instead. The astronauts took turns reading from the Bible, beginning with Anders:
“For all the people on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message 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,”
Commander Borman closed the broadcast, 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.”
What better way to celebrate Christmas than to acknowledge the awesome power of God, the unique nature of Earth and its inhabitants in God’s universe, while humbly acknowledging our own vulnerability and humanity? The message being received on Christmas marries forever the timeless gift of salvation with the gift of perspective. May we be able to keep it all year.
And so, I close with a Christmas wish for you: “good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.” And stay away from clowns.