Commemorating Advent and the 50-Year Ago Christmas Eve Adventure of Apollo 8: A Complimentary Commemoration for Contemplation of Civilization Part III in a Series
Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image, in our likeness . . .”
and “created them; male and female” and
“blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth. . .”
(Genesis 1. 26 – 28)
Apollo 8 crew saw humanity unlike ever before on December 24, Christmas Eve, 1968, which in turn changed how we see ourselves forever. We can see what they saw by looking at the photos they took during lunar orbit and sent back to earth.
The most celebrated photo was entitled “Earthrise,” which was an epiphany that took place in space a quarter of a million miles from the earth. 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.
From that distance, we could not separate ourselves by race, ethnicity, or gender. We were part of a whole planet suspended in space together. Instead of seeing ourselves as black, brown, red, white, or yellow, we could only see ourselves as a predominately blue planet. Also, gone were the borders we use to separate us.
We are amid the Advent season, which is a time when Christians are encouraged to spend time in quiet reflection and discernment regarding God’s incarnation in Christ and the teachings that we were taught by the incarnate Christ, which include viewing humanity inversely as expressed in his most well-known sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. He proclaimed:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.
If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.
If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away
from the one who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said,
‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I tell you, love your enemies.”
(Matthew 5. 38 – 44)
As we reflect upon the annual celebration of incarnational mystery, let us remember that the incarnation is a past event, present reality, and future hope. May our future hope include a commitment to further live out the loving and giving part of the incarnate Christ’s proclamations, including those noted above.
Poet, playwright, and essayist Archibald MacLeish wrote an essay that was published in the New York Times as Apollo 8 was heading home on Christmas Day based on his reflections of the Earthrise photo. It was entitled “Riders on Earth Together, Brothers in Eternal Cold.” He ended it by stating “man may at last become himself.” His last sentence was
“To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers (and sisters) on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold — brothers (and sisters) who know now they are truly brothers (and sisters).”
The Earthrise photo revealed a seemingly fragile and suspended world in which billions of brothers and sisters inhabit and all whom the incarnate Christ loves. As we attend to the season of Advent, let us quietly reflect on and discern ways that we can view humanity differently, so that we may adhere to the teachings of the incarnate Christ concerning ways to love our brothers and sisters unlike ever before.