And the Word became flesh
John 1:14

Today’s Gospel makes reference to the Doctrine of the Incarnation: “The Word became flesh.” This doctrine teaches that in the person of Jesus Christ God became man and shared all of man’s experiences, except sin.

From time immemorial people have pondered on the nature of man. This has attracted the attention of biblical writers, philosophers, scientists, theologians, anthropologists and many others; in all these discussions people have sought to answer the question “What is man?”

What is man?

This question occupied the attention of the Psalmist: “what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him” (Psalm 8:4)? Like the rest of humanity the psalmist sought an answer to this intriguing question. The psalmist was overwhelmed by God’s love and care for sinful man and in a spirit of humility asked the pertinent question “what is man that thou art mindful of him?” There is a sense of awe as the psalmist reflects on God’s goodness towards disobedient man.

What is man? Man is a creature created by God. As such he is limited by space and time; he is finite and mortal (man is subject to death). The Psalmist speaks of man in these words “we are like a puff of wind; our days are like a passing shadow” (Psalm 144:4). Again the Psalmist speaks of man’s mortality; ‘In the morning it is green, and groweth up : but in the evening it is cut down, dried up, and withered” (Psalm 90: 6). As a creature man is dependent on God for his existence. Our lives are in God hands, we are not masters of our own destiny as some would want us to believe. Discoveries in science and the extraordinary developments in technology can fool us into believing that we are not creatures and in the process we destroy ourselves as we worship the creature and not the Creator (Romans 1:24-32).

As a creature and not the Creator, man is responsible to God for what he does with the world and how he uses it. God commits the world in trust to man, to be used to the glory of God and the relief of man’s needs. We have a duty to care for the environment and save it from destruction.

First and foremost, man was created by God for the purpose of worship and giving glory to God. The psalmist reminds us that all things were created for God’s glory: “the heavens declare the glory of God : and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1). The fact that man can worship God and establish a relationship with Him sets him apart from the rest of creation. Unlike animals and trees man can have a personal relationship with God.  Man is unique in his relationship with God. Consistent with the Biblical idea that we were made for worship and to glorify God, a church document, the Westminster Confession states, “the chief end of man is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.” Our primary purpose in life is to worship God. Since man was created for worship, if he does not worship Almighty God he will create his own gods and worship them. We must be realistic in recognising that people do not always visibly image God perfectly. When we sin and misrepresent the character of God, we “come short of the glory of God” (Romans. 3:23).

What is man? Man is a sinner in need of divine help. All have sinned (1 John 1:8; Romans 3:23).   Our relationship with God fell apart when man sinned. Sin impaired our relationship with God thereby the need for a Saviour. The Christmas story has to be understood within the context of man’s sin. The Christmas story begins the process of reconciliation which is needed to repair the broken relation between man and God caused by man’s sin. Today’s New Testament reading makes this point, “But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,  to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

What is man? Man is a person and is therefore capable of making moral choices; he has the capacity to choose between good and evil, right and wrong. Because he can make moral choices, man is a moral agent. To describe man as a moral agent means that man is capable to act with reference to right or wrong. Man knows the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. Man acts morally when he does the right thing. Man is a rational (sensible) being and is responsible for his actions. Man cannot blame anyone for his mistakes. Man has to accept the consequences of his actions. If we accept that man is a person made in God’s image, it has implications for the way we treat each other. To be a man means to be kind, compassionate, considerate, caring, forgiving  and loving.

As a person man has physical and spiritual needs that need to be met if he is to be an integrated individual. One of the biggest problems we have is the fallacy of just catering to the material needs of people. We are misguided as we believe that if we give people all the material things they need they will become better people. This is false and far from the truth. Look at our Barbadian society and tell me what you see. We can boast of our material development and progress, but so many of our citizens do not act humanly.

What is man? Man is the apex of God’s creation. The psalmist describes man’s privileged status; “Thou madest him lower than the angels: to crown him with glory and worship” (Psalm 8:4-6). Martin Luther King speaks of man as “God’s marvellous creation.” At the creation, God confirmed man’s privileged position by giving him authority over the created order; "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth" Genesis 1:26). It is interesting to note that after he had created man, God looked at his creation and said ‘it is good’. Both creation stories present man as the ‘crown’ of creation. Man came from the dust of the earth, but he is more than dust. Man is the crown of creation.

William Shakespeare’s  Hamlet speaks very highly of man:

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

What is man? Man is a complex finite being made in God’s image and the object of His unending love.  

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