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What the Christmas Story is all about
(Written in 2018 for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8.)
The Christmas message from Apollo 8, Christmas Day (Australian time) 1968.
The crew had discussed among themselves what they would say during the TV broadcast on Lunar Orbit 9. They understood that the largest audience in history would be listening and watching. What they decided to do came as a complete surprise to the flight controllers back in Houston.
From the opening page of the Bible, they read the first 10 verses of the first chapter of the Book of Genesis.
Commander Frank Borman called it, “The good Earth”.
That’s the paradox, though, isn’t it. There’s so much good, so much beauty – and – at the same time – so much hatred, selfishness – and so many broken relationships.
Many who watched that broadcast had a sense that there is something more profound going on than even beating the Soviets to the Moon.
That television broadcast, with its grainy pictures, and its words from the Bible, had a deep impact.
A friend who was in Mission Control that day wrote this:
The Apollo 8 crew had read the beginning of the most important story the world has ever heard.
It’s a story which explains what is wrong with the world. And it’s the only story which offers certain hope.
Those words in Genesis chapter 1 tell us that the almighty and powerful God created everything. He just spoke, and creation came into being. And, it was good.
– Now, if you are hearing those words read at the end of 1968 – that traumatic and awful year – you could well be wondering,
For that matter, how did we get from the good creation of Genesis 1 to the mess of fifty years later?
Let’s see, in thumbnail sketch, how the rest of the Bible’s message explains exactly why Christmas is the best news of all.
Just two pages further on in the Bible, after hearing of God’s good creation, we read of a turn of events which affects each and every one of us.
Genesis chapter 3 tells us of humankind’s rebellion against God.
The first man and the woman choose to disobey God – God who has given them so much – God who has given them life – and they seek to usurp his place by making themselves the authority in their lives. They reject him.
What results is a broken relationship with God (including death), and broken relationships with each other. Death, judgment, and exclusion from God’s presence, would be the consequence.
Friends, we have all inherited this state of affairs, and it explains why the world is in the mess it is today – as it was in 1968.
We humans are such amazing creatures. We are capable of wonderful creativity and ingenuity and good. We can even fly to the Moon!
But we are also messed up, and we find (and often cause) broken relationships at every turn.
Yet, right from Genesis chapter 3, God himself reveals that he is not going to leave things there. In his own time, he will more than undo the effects of Adam and Eve’s cosmic mutiny.
He promises he will send One who will come among us to rescue us – who will act to bring forgiveness, and restore the relationship between us and God.
It’s a promise long kept – but when Jesus is born, that first Christmas, he is the Promise come in person, come on a Cosmic Rescue Mission.
That first Christmas, the angel announces the news – news of great joy – to shepherds out in the fields, Luke 2:10:
That’s why Jesus came – to be the Saviour.
He did many marvellous things during his earthly ministry. He taught about the kingdom of God, he healed with the power of God, he showed compassion.
He demonstrated authority over the spiritual realm, as well as over nature. And he forgave sin, as only God himself can do. He said that he had come “to seek and save the lost”.
The reason Jesus came was to give his life on the cross, taking the punishment we deserve for the way we’ve treated God. And he rose from death, triumphant over the grave. This is how he is the Saviour.
That’s a very compressed outline, but I hope you can see that it is good news indeed – for anyone who will receive it by believing it, recognisng Jesus’ kingship, and by availing themselves of his death and resurrection for us.
Even though we’ve “declared independence” from God, he loves us so much that he mounted this Rescue Mission of the ages – sending his Son to save us.
Apollo 8’s greetings were to everyone on “the good Earth”. So is the wonderful message of Christmas! It’s good news for us if we will receive it, so that we can be right with God – both now and for ever.
For those of us who remember Apollo 8 – well, we’re all fifty years older. And one day, we will meet the God who acted to save us. How tragic it would be if we have spurned his love, and meet him unprepared and unforgiven?
This 51st anniversary of Apollo 8 is a great time to hear and consider – and, I pray, respond to, God’s amazing offer of forgiveness and new life in Jesus.
If you’d like to check out an outline of the Christian message,
Read the real Christmas story in the Gospel According to Luke.
Written by Luke, a first century doctor and historian, a bit over 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Luke, probably a native of northern Greece, travelled extensively and interviewed many of the key players to compile this account.
The 80 page book also has some helpful background notes.
or listen to the audiobook read by an Australian voice!
Let me know if you’d like a printed copy.