“God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”

The earth, as seen from Apollo 8For some time, I’ve been a student of the history of America’s space program. I am fascinated by the early, heady days of the 1960s and early 1970s, when we reached out to the moon and actually managed to land men there and bring them back home safely.

Time CoverOne of the most fascinating journeys of project Apollo was the Christmas voyage of Apollo 8. This mission accomplished something never before even attempted: it was the first time men had flown to the moon and achieved an orbit around the moon. This was an incredibly brave and gutsy thing to try, and the three astronauts aboard Apollo 8, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, were voted Time Magazine’s Men of the Year in 1968.

I’m impressed, at times, when reading these histories, at the cultural differences between that time and our own. One good example of this is the way the Apollo 8 astronauts read some text from Genesis 1 back to earth on Christmas Eve. You can give it a listen at the YouTube below:

Reportedly, Dr. Thomas Paine, NASA administrator, said that the mission was “a triumph of the squares, the guys with computers and slide rules who read the Bible on Christmas Eve.” Heh

This wasn’t the only example of religious observance in space. Commander Frank Borman of the aforementioned Apollo 8 mission was also a lay-reader at his church and was scheduled that weekend to read prayers in the service, so, during the third of ten orbits around the moon, the following occurred:

During the third pass, Borman read a small prayer for his church, as he was meant to lay read during the Midnight service at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church near Seabrook, Texas, but due to the Apollo 8 flight was unable. A fellow parishioner and engineer at Mission Control, Rod Rose, suggested that Borman read the prayer which could be recorded and then replayed during the service.

In addition, Buzz Aldrin, on the historic Apollo 11 mission, took communion in the lunar module after it landed in the Sea of Tranquility on the moon.

I think that’s pretty cool.

Merry Christmas

A Merry Christmas to you all.

Unto us a child is born. Unto us a Son is given. Unto us comes this gift, though we knew him not and gave him little welcome.

Yet he came, leaving the majesty and unspeakable glory of his Father’s house, not clinging to the riches of unveiled Deity. He came, a light into the very thick darkness of this world, a darkness that did and does not comprehend, and that did all it could to kill the light.

He came, poor and lowly with a feed trough for his first bed, surrounded by a few of those that the world deemed inconsequential; the outcasts, the poor, the nobodies. It was these who would flock to him for healing, who would joyfully eat the multiplied fish and loaves from his hand, who would without decorum cry for rescue with deformed tongues, blind eyes and stunted limbs, and be made whole, leaping and dancing and praising God. It was these who would scandalize the well-integrated and well-heeled of their day with jars of alabaster and unabashed tears of repentence, kneeling at his feet.

May we join them this day and every day, whispering and cooing in wonder as we kneel by the manger, silent and joyous and awed as we listen to him teach, humble under his healing hand that releases us strong-limbed, clear-eyed, and clean in a broken world. May we stand beside his cross, with eyes that have bled out all the tears in their store and with ears that hear the derision and mockery of the established powers, standing with him in his lonely struggle against the heaped sins of the millenia, unashamed of our kinship with this one that the darkness rages against. And may we run with joy from the empty tomb, our hearts set aflame by the news that he is alive!

For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given. Merry Christmas!

[Hat tip for the image to iMonk]

The Moment

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.

– Luke 2:8-9 (ESV)

It’s likely you’ve read this scene many times. You’ve probably seen it acted out on more than a few Christmases; acted out by businessmen, janitors, lawyers, maybe even you, dressed in clumsy bathrobes in church nativity presentations through the years. It can lose its impact, can’t it?

But I wonder. What was it like to be there, in that moment. These shepherds were regular guys, doing what they had done many nights in the past: marking time and keeping watch over their sheep. As they went to work that night none of them had any idea that their lives would be forever changed. True, things were a bit different these days; the city was jumping with visitors, irritated and weary travellers, census-takers, and profiteers. Perhaps the shepherds were glad for a little peace and quiet. None of them knew of, nor would they have taken note of, the exhausted couple that had arrived in their town that day. They hadn’t seen the young and very pregnant woman grimace in pain, or heard the protestations of her very worried husband at the doors of the inns of Bethlehem. These shepherds, no doubt, had their own problems.

But then there came that moment when the sky exploded with light and everything changed. They were suddenly surrounded by beings heretofore unimagined, and they surely felt the terrifying thrill of what C.S. Lewis has called the salute of mortal flesh when it comes before the presence of immortality. And they heard these words: ““Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

And so these terrified, wondering shepherds heard the greatest announcement that the world had ever heard, brought by the messengers of a God who had specifically commanded them that these poor shepherds were to be the first to know. And so began the confounding of the world that is the Incarnation, in which the greatest of all became the least, coming to a world with no room for Him, not even a proper crib, and born to a poor woman who had only narrowly escaped the scandal, disgrace and condemnation that her society could have heaped on her.

What was it like to be in that stable, to witness a birth which, as far as we know, Mary and Joseph had to accomplish on their own? Here was God, born into a world of dirt and animal smells and the sounds of the simple, rustic wonder of field hands called to His manger by the heavenly hosts; called because they were poor nobodies. They were the ones to which the Son of Righteousness came to preach good news. For to all the world’s eyes, He was a poor nobody too.

It was the moment of the Incarnation, and it changed everything.

It’s not fully Christmas for me unless I am in that moment as well, kneeling in worship by a most inglorious feed trough that was, confoundedly, specially chosen and glorified by God Himself to hold His Son.

Emmanuel has come, God is with us. And every thing’s going to be alright.

It’s Christmas!

[Cross-posted on The Thinklings]

The Christmas Truce of 1914

World War I was a horrific catastrophe that changed the world forever. It was warfare on a scale never before imagined, combining new and terrifying technologies such as planes, tanks, and poison gas with misfit, outmoded tactics that guaranteed maximum casualties in a trench-hell of filth, shells, and death. Yet on Christmas day, 1914, something wonderful, though short-lived, happened:

Although the popular memory of World War One is normally one of horrific casualties and ‘wasted’ life, the conflict does have tales of comradeship and peace. One of the most remarkable, and heavily mythologised, events concerns the ‘Christmas Truce’ of 1914, in which the soldiers of the Western Front laid down their arms on Christmas Day and met in No Man’s Land, exchanging food and cigarettes, as well as playing football. The cessation of violence was entirely unofficial and there had been no prior discussion: troops acted spontaneously from goodwill, not orders. Not only did this truce actually happen, but the event was more widespread than commonly portrayed. There are many accounts of the Christmas truce, the most famous of which concern the meeting of British and German forces; however, French and Belgium troops also took part. The unofficial nature of the truce meant that there was no one single cause or origin; some narratives tell of British troops hearing their German counterparts singing Christmas carols and joining in, while Frank Richards, a private in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, told of how both sides erected signs wishing the other a ‘Merry Christmas’. From these small starts some men crossed the lines with their hands up, and troops from the opposing side went to meet them. By the time officers realised what was happening the initial meetings had been made, and most commanders either turned a blind eye or happily joined in. The fraternisation lasted, in many areas, for the whole of Christmas day. Food and supplies were exchanged on a one to one basis, while in some areas men borrowed tools and equipment from the enemy, in order to quickly improve their own living conditions. Many games of football were played using whatever would suffice for a ball, while bodies that had become trapped within No Man’s Land were buried. Most modern retellings of the Truce finish with the soldiers returning to their trenches and then fighting again the next day, but in many areas the peace lasted much longer. Frank Richard’s account explained how both sides refrained from shooting at each other the next day, until the British troops were relieved and they left the front line. In other areas the goodwill lasted for several weeks, bringing a halt to opportunistic sniping, before the bloody conflict once again resumed.

[Cross-posted on The Thinklings]

“And ransom captive Israel”

Kingdom People has a written a great meditation on one of my all time favorite Christmas hymns, Oh, Come, Oh, Come Emmanuel .

Above all other hymns, I think this one captures best the deep longing for rescue that lives inside the human heart. That longing has been satisfied in the advent of our Savior, Jesus. Rejoice!

And ransom captive Israel… The Jews were not praying for the Messiah’s appearing as one would hope to see a solar eclipse or desire to witness a fascinating event. They knew that when the Messiah would come, He would ransom captive Israel. Surely, God had seen their mourning in lonely exile under Babylon and now Rome. Their warrior – God’s Representative would soon be on the way. Most Jews looked forward to the day when God would come and put His world to rights, end their exile, fulfill His promises and rescue His people. But those events would not transpire until the Son of God appeared.

The whole post is good. Go read it.

[Hat Tip: Jesus Creed]

Merry Christmas

I'm in the Christmas spirit a little early this year, so I've switched to the Christmas Star theme here on Out of the Bloo. This theme will be up for the remainder of the holiday season.

Charlie Brown ChristmasTonight I watched the latter portions of the excellent A Charlie Brown Christmas. Would a cartoon like this be produced today? I don't think so. The overt and sweet spirituality of the show is a breath of fresh air.

I particularly love the decoration by the children of Charlie's scraggly little tree. What a fabulous picture of God's redemption!

Speaking of trees, we already have our tree setup, which has got to be a record here at the Roberts' household. We got our tree on Saturday from a local tree farm, which is a neat family tradition that we began years ago. Except for last year, which reminds me of another picture of redemption, communicated to me through another scraggly tree.

Merry Christmas.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

– Isaiah 9:6-7 (ESV)