Beyond the Wit of Man

Poor Europe—“white Christmas”—bad timing. The wintery blast that has piled a mound of snow across Europe the past few days might have started out a “Christmas winter wonderland.” But the only wonder left now is how to untangle this perfect storm of meteorological and technological gridlock that has turned the continent’s major airports into bed and breakfasts, minus the bed and the breakfast. Nobody’s humming “White Christmas” anymore (especially since that Irving Berlin composition is a distinctly American tradition). No wonder the mayor is so uptight! “Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, appeared frustrated that the winter weather could completely snarl air travel through Heathrow, where only a ‘handful’ of flights were landing and taking off on Monday, according to a spokeswoman. ‘It can’t be beyond the wit of man surely to find the shovels, the diggers, the snowplows or whatever it takes to clear the snow out from under the planes, to get the planes moving and to have more than one runway going,’ Mr. Johnson said, according to the Associated Press." From the New York Times.” 

“It can’t be beyond the wit of man.” Well put, Lord Mayor. But then again some Christmas realities are utterly beyond our human ken, are they not? There was no snowfall that autumn night over Bethlehem. Just an over-crowded inn, filled to its rafters with out-of-towners for the Roman tax census. Shepherds with their flocks and camp fires dotted the midnight hillsides surrounding the village (evidence enough that the Holy Night came in autumn, not in winter). Suddenly from out of nowhere in the darkness a celestial being materialized in an explosion of glory before the stricken shepherds. “ . . . and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Luke 2:10-14)

Wide-eyed and dumb with fear, that band of watchers had gazed upon “the brightest picture ever beheld by human eyes” (The Desire of Ages 48). How long did it take to find voice and sight in the dark again? However long, they abandoned flocks, raced to the sleepy village, located the backyard cave-stable with the designated feeding trough, and out-of-breath stumbled into the presence of God in the still glistening Newborn.

“It can’t be beyond the wit of man.” But in this case it truly is. Far beyond our paltry finitude, no matter how long we brood over that manger scene.  “Wonder, O heavens! and be astonished, O earth!” (p 49)  No wonder the compelling human response to the God who tiptoed into town that night is to worship him.