Advent 4 St. Matthew 1:18-25
Many of you have probably seen one of these before: it is a model of a child in the womb at 12 weeks from conception. They have become quite popular over the years at the Natoma Lutherans For Life booth at the Rooks County Fair.
It is of particular interest for us today, because this is about how big we can assume Jesus to be in the womb of Mary when our Gospel text takes place.
To determine the timing we need to backtrack a little bit: our Gospel text details the angel coming to Joseph telling him that Mary had indeed been faithful to their engagement, and that the child she carries was of the Holy Spirit. So that means that this text occurs after the angel tells Mary about the child; which would thereby make this text almost certainly after Mary returns from seeing her cousin Elizabeth, whom she had stayed with for three months until after the birth of John the Baptist.
So it is reasonable to assume, that when Joseph finds out that Mary is with child, it is upon her return from staying with Elizabeth, and already three months since the angel came to Mary and told her that she would bear the Christ child.
Which means Jesus is about this size; about 3 inches long and weighs about 2 ounces.
But He did not just appear this way; like each of us, He was barely the size of a grain of salt after the angel tells Mary she would be with child.
And like each of us, about 4 weeks later, Jesus heart began to beat, and His eyes, ears and lungs had begun to form.
In the fifth week, arms and legs had appeared; and in the sixth week, toes and fingers began to develop.
Brain activity was detectable in week seven; and in week eight, a whole month before returning to Nazareth, Mary would begin to feel Jesus kick inside of her.
In the ninth week, Mary’s doctor would have been able to confirm what the prophets of old had foretold, and what angel had already announced to her: that the child was a boy.
And now in week twelve, three months since the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear a child; Jesus is three inches long, and weighs in at 2 ounces.
That does not sound very impressive. The biology of it all is amazing; but when you actually consider what this child that Mary now carries will become, and what He is supposed to do, it probably sounds at the very least, a little disheartening.
After all, this is not how God has appeared in the past: the Lord appeared to Abraham in the form of three visitors coming to his tent. On Mount Sinai, the Lord appeared and there was thunder and lightning. At the dedication of the temple, the Lord appeared in a cloud of glory. Even Elijah got a still, small voice.
After all of that, we do not like to hear about Jesus as an zygote, or even today when He has grown up to be three inches long and weighing 2 ounces.
How does zygote Jesus crush the head of the serpent?
How does a Jesus, just developing arms and legs, let alone fingers and toes do much of anything to help you when you are in need?
The people in Israel 30 years later do not like the idea that Jesus came without an army; imagine what they would think if they knew that today He could fit in the palm of their hand, with plenty of room to spare.
Nor does it sound impressive, or comforting, or assuring to you, gathered here today, to hear that the Son of God, who is supposed to save His people from their sins, is barely bigger than a golf ball. You to like the idea of Jesus as big and strong and mighty; you like the idea that Jesus is master of the universe; overpowering any and all who would dare threaten His faithful people. You like the picture of Jesus sitting on the heavenly throne, flanked by archangels; not the picture of Jesus in the womb, flanked by amniotic fluid.
To hear the words of St. Matthew today, to hear the words of St. Luke on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, is to hear that the Savior of the world is just like you; outside of the virgin birth, He does not appear in a special way; nor does He develop any differently than anyone else. And so today, at 12 weeks from conception, He is 3 inches long and weighs 2 ounces; just as anyone else would.
You can only imagine that for as discouraged as the people in Israel might be at hearing that Jesus is a mere 3 inches and 2 ounces; and for as disheartened as people today might be that the Savior does not come with lightening in His hands; Satan is laughing when he hears the news. A child in the womb poses no threat to the prince of darkness.
And yet, what you hear today is exceptionally good news for you; and especially bad news for Satan.
The brain that will produce the parables, and the great I Am statements; the brain that sits in the temple at 12 years old talking to the teachers of the Law, and the brain that will later challenge the Pharisees and Sadducees and others when it comes to the interpretation of the Law of Moses, is already forming in week 3, and is active in week 7.
The eyes that will see those sitting in darkness, including the Samaritan woman at the well and the man by the pool of Siloam and Zacheus in the sycamore tree; and the ears that will hear the cries for mercy from the lepers and from the lame and from the demon possessed, and from so many others, will form in week 4.
The hands that will use the mud of the ground to heal the blind and the deaf; and the feet that will be washed by the hair of the unnamed woman after a long day of walking the dusty roads of this world, will form in week 6.
The heart that so loves the world that He left His place at the right hand of God to come into the womb of Mary, to live in the house of Joseph the carpenter, will take its first beats in week 4.
By week 12, when the angel comes to Joseph and assures him that everything is going to be alright; that Mary has not been unfaithful and that the child is of the Holy Spirit, everything has already formed, making the Jesus in the womb the same Jesus that we will see on the sea of Galilee teaching the crowds; the same Jesus that will multiply the bread and fish for the 5000, the same Jesus that will raise Lazarus from the dead, the same Jesus who will overturn the tables in the temple, the same Jesus that we will see go to Jerusalem, the same Jesus that we will see nailed to the cross. He is just a little smaller today.
But it will be those same hands and feet that formed in week 5 and 6, that will be nailed to a cross on Calvary. And that skull that formed in week 8, will be the same skull that will have a crown of thorns rested upon it. And that side, that was smaller than a grain of salt in week 1, and is just 3 inches in week 12, will be the same side that is pierced with a spear; and that heart, that took its first beat in week 4, will be the same heart that takes its last beat on Good Friday.
The Savior, who today is just three inches long and weighs 2 ounces, is the same Savior who will hang on the cross on Good Friday, and breathe His last.
He is just like you, and now He has come to save you from your sins.
We meet Him today as helpless and defenseless as one can be at three inches long and weighing two ounces. But the one who is helpless today, has come into the world to help those who are helpless to save themselves. The one who today we see as small and weak and lowly, has come to raise you up to the throne of God. The one who today is three inches long and weighs 2 ounces is already big enough to offer comfort to those sitting in darkness, to offer hope to those who recognize their sinfulness; to put terror in the shoes of Satan and all his angels.
Jesus forms in the womb of Mary from smaller then a grain of salt, to 3 inches long and 2 ounces heavy, to a newborn in the Bethlehem manger, to a 33 year old who hangs on a cross outside of Jerusalem so that you might be saved from the power of the devil; so that you might receive the forgiveness of sins; so that you might spend eternal life with Him in Paradise.