Christmas Chromosomes

Christmas Chromosomes: A Christmas sermon

A Christmas sermon

Leslie Holmes, D.Min.,is senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

To the average eye, they were simply peas, and no one gave them much thought as they were grown, harvested, cooked, and consumed. But Austrian monk Gregor Mendel thought he noticed discreet but definite differences between the peas that grew in the monastery garden.

He began experimenting with tall peas and short peas, with red-flowered peas and white-flowered peas. He ob served and recorded how distinctive traits are passed on from one generation to the next and how in each kind of pea certain characteristics are more dominant than others. From his studies, Mendel became the father of what is known today as genetics.

Those who followed Gregor Mendel built on his foundation. Men such as James Dewey Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology in 1962 for their discovery of the molecular structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), used Mendel's findings in their research. By using Father Gregor's foundational studies, they discovered that one can take a cell from a plant or an animal and extract from it the chemical DNA that governs all the physical and mental characteristics of the whole organism. The DNA from two totally different organisms, such as a mouse and a lion, may be extracted and grafted together resulting in a mouse that roars!

The implications of modern genetics

That, of course, is an oversimplification of recent scientific breakthroughs that we hope will make life better for all of us. In reality, we know that things are not always that simple.

Dolly, the genetically engineered sheep that attracted worldwide attention not long ago, demonstrates how far we have traveled in our understanding of genetics. She also reminds us that there are some serious ethical implications involved in genetics, as there are for any technology involving something as basic as life and the essential characteristics of species. The amazingly rapid rate at which other cloning experiments have been carried out whether with cattle in France or with the cloning of 130 mice in Eastern Europe is astonishing and to many, quite disconcerting.

Each new report raises the issue of human cloning, with all the attendant promises, such as the potential for organ replacement and the replenishing of other defective body parts. Who wouldn't want to save the life of a dying child by developing a replacement body part for the one that has failed? On the downside, however, there is the fear that, in the wrong hands, horrendous abuses could visit us as we seek to develop some form of human super-race. Thus, each new report also rein forces our urgent need to examine this issue not only from a scientific perspective but also from a theological and ethical one.

Christmas chromosomes

But what does all this have to do with this article's title about Christmas? Simply this: Christmas is when Christian human beings celebrate what they have seen . . . "His glory," the glory of the One and Only (Greek: monogenes), who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (see John 1:14). That Greek word, monogenes, is a compound of mono for "sole, only, no other" and genes for "gene, generation." It tells us that the only Person ever born with God's genes was God's one and only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Monogenes, a word with obvious genetic overtones, is a beautiful word to describe the miraculous genetics of the first Christmas. John, in his Gospel, uses it to say, "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (monogenes!), that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life ... Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son [monogenesl]" (John 3:16,18).

In John's first epistle we find it again: "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son [monogenesl] into the world that we might live through him" (1 John 4:9). Christmas is ultimately about God's stupendous love sent down to be among us in God's One and Only, Jesus.

The angel told Mary, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). God on High implanted His own Son in one of us named Mary! God, remaining divine, became human.

So, the first Christmas was 2,000 years ahead of modern genetic science. Gregor Mendel may be called the father of genetics, but the astounding knowledge and genetic initiative of God is ahead of us all, bringing with it the greatest good that possibly could be conceived.

Learning from the chromosomes of Christmas

Searching God's seminal genetic initiative in Christ, we first learn that the very latest genetic discoveries with which humanity is so enamored are new only to us. We quickly realize that a God, who can devise a system like the one biotechnological researchers are now just beginning to uncover finds the idea of virgin birth and a crossover between God and humanity child's play!

Second, in the unique genetics of Jesus, God was dramatically trans formed into a human being. The uniting of the divine and the human produced a miracle. This serves to demonstrate how we might also undergo sensational changes through His power and presence. There is nothing in our lives that God through Christ's Spirit cannot transform. He knows every temptation we experience because He, as a man, experienced them. He knows what it means to be human and to be victorious over the pain and trial of human existence. No sin and no situation is beyond His redeeming grace. He alone can transfigure sinners into saints.

Through Christ some people have undergone transformational changes that have turned the course of human history. We may think of people of antiquity like Francis of Assisi, once a reckless playboy but then a saint. There is also our contemporary, Chuck Colson, once a political hatchet man and now a great evangelist and apologist for Christ. Add to them the names of thousands upon thousands of other men and women delivered from destructive habits, corrupt living, and deep hurt. In Jesus, relationships once broken are restored. Thousands upon thousands of altered lives are models of hope for us. They show us that God can take anything negative in our lives and deliver us to conquest over it all.


No doubt, from the days when Brother Gregor was studying peas in the garden to the cloning of Dolly and on to this moment, humankind has made incredible strides in genetics and in the study of the secrets of human life. But the greatest genetic miracle was the in carnation of the Son of God, who in human flesh offered Himself a sacrifice for the world's sin, and catering our dilemma, transformed us into His likeness. Whatever wonderful benefits genetics will ever bring, none can com pare with that of the "Monogenes" of God being born into and dying for the sin of a fallen race.

In the Christmas-chromosomes, we have a gift that will last forever.

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Leslie Holmes, D.Min.,is senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

November 1999

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