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It was 95 degrees outside, air conditioners were running, and it didn't feel like Christmas there in the Southern hemisphere. At night we closed our screens against Christmas beetles - June bugs, in December! At the mall, my wife and I were surprised to see a giant Christmas tree. In Johannesburg, shoppers from many cultures were enjoying the holiday although most of them were not Americans, nor Christians. Christmas is celebrated in many cultures all over the world, often for purely commercial reasons.

Christmas is the story of a miracle. A young Jewish virgin, perhaps 16 years old, supernaturally conceived a child and gave birth to our Savior. Beyond delightful Christmas music, holiday shopping trips, special family meals, and children wondering in awe at Santa Claus, there is a historical reality here. The truth is shrouded in myth and make-believe.

First the myth about Santa. His name comes from Saint Nicklaus, a real person in Russia, a Christian leader, known for his gift-giving to the poor. He really was a saint. The evergreen tree came from Germany. It was defended by Martin Luther as a way to honor baby Jesus with sweets, decorations, candles, and gifts. As for Rudolph, there were animals in the manger where Jesus lay as a newborn, but I doubt a reindeer had a glowing red nose. But I love hearing Burl Ives or Bing Crosby sing this happy song for children; or Andy Williams singing to grownups about chestnuts roasting on the fire.

The old Christmas Carols that were sung for generations in churches have proven to be a source of wonder and reverence. I never grow tired of them. Usually, these holiday hymns reflect good theology. They are a window into how people of former generations once thought deeply about the value of Christmas. Verses or Bible stories were made into poems and set to music. When sung, they gave an illiterate population a means of learning stories from the Bible. Songs stay with you.

Many of these old songs were more accurate than modern hits. For example, the song "Hark, the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King." It extols Christ, born to be our King. He was much more than a baby in a manger. A favorite of mine is, "Oh come, all ye faithful..."

What about Mary? Jesus said future generations would honor her above other women, and that has happened. Recently I listened to "Mary did you know" performed by the Pentatonic singers. What an exhilarating piece of music! Can you imagine Mary's faith and courage? Moral virtue was valuable in her day. If she were not a virgin, she would likely lose her chance at betrothal, be shamed and shunned. Yet Mary submitted to the word from God. "Be it done unto me according to your word," she replied to the angel. In the Bible, angels appeared often around the birth of Christ.

What about the Virgin birth? Because we know much more than previous generations about human DNA, we can appreciate the amazing miracle of Jesus' conception. We know chromosomes are contributed by the male and by the female. These unite to reproduce a human being. For Mary, who had never had sex, it was the Holy Spirit who brooded over her, just like he had once brooded over earth at creation. Jesus' father was really God.

The story of Mary illustrates how believers today can hear from God, become pregnant with his word, and carry their divine promise to full term.

-- Ron Wood is a writer and minister. Email him at or visit The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 12/19/2018

Print Headline: The DNA of Baby Jesus

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