Hanging over my desk in my study is a print of Anna Lea Merritt’s painting titled Eve. It hangs there as a reminder of the reality of the human condition. Above all else, it is a beautiful depiction of what sin has wrought on the earth. The painting (featured above) shows the mother of the living seated on the ground in the garden. Next to her lies the forbidden fruit with a clear bite taken out of it. Her head rests on her knees as she physically seems to be turned in on herself away from all that is external. As Augustine said, man is incurvatus in se; that is, we are all curved inward on ourselves.
This, of course, was precisely what the serpent had tempted Eve to do in the first place. When convincing her to eat of the forbidden fruit the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5) You will be like God. Or perhaps, you will be a god, your own god, answerable to yourself, selfishly driven in all aspects of life to satisfy your own desires. You will be curved in on yourself. A god of your own reality
One curved in on himself cannot simply be turned away from such a pursuit. You can’t just tell her to stop it or to look away. The view is too enchanting, the world too closed in on itself. Everything outside must serve the world created on the inside. Luther put it this way: “Our nature, by the corruption of the first sin, [being] so deeply curved in on itself that it not only bends the best gifts of God towards itself and enjoys them (as is plain in the works-righteous and hypocrites), or rather even uses God himself in order to attain these gifts, but it also fails to realize that it so wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake.”
I have this painting one my wall because of these very sentiments. As I craft a sermon or prepare to enter the sanctuary to preside over the worship service, I do so with a firm reminder of the nature of these things. Mankind is not simply confused or ignorant or morally lacking. They are sinners, through and through, and that sin is a sophisticated and complete system that they are born into. From there they begin to craft it as their own. Lords over their own dominion, they establish the patterns and assign values of meaning in their kingdoms. By the time a preacher comes around, that curved in shell is almost impenetrable.
Which is why Christmas is so crucial. For the problem plaguing all mankind is far greater than anything we imagined. It wasn’t enough to have the words of the forerunner, the voice crying in the wilderness. It wasn’t enough to have a temple and a system of sacrifice and guide for holy living. All of these things we would grab and bend toward our own selfish desires. No, ultimately it took something more, something far greater. To bend mankind away from their own bellies, the true God would have to come and personally do the work. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Creator of the heavens and the earth. The One who parted the Red Sea and led Israel through on dry land. He would have to come to break the shell of our self-righteous kingdoms. His light must break into our darkness and with it bring everlasting promises.
And come He does.
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means God with us).” – Matt. 1:23