It covers up the worn roof shingles, the toys strewn across the yard, the unkempt flower beds, the piles of tires or used lumber, the rusty tractor that hasn’t run in decades.
Today as I was shoveling my driveway, I was admiring the beauty of the foot of snow that has fallen on our city. It’s stunning–white and glistening, sagging off the roofs like duvets being aired by European housewives. Fresh snow makes the world seem quieter, friendlier, more peaceful–and cleaner.
Now as I sit here watching it snow and listening to Handel’s Messiah, I am reminded of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
Isaiah doesn’t say our sins will be covered as with snow. In the Old Testament economy, sins and blood were irrevocably connected, because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Heb 9.22) The Hebrews were required to offer sacrifices for sin, and the job of the priest was much like the job of a butcher. Priestly garments were undoubtedly covered with blood, and the blood of animals provided a temporary covering for sin.
My wife and I are involved with a local furniture bank. Just the other day, a colleague and I were looking at a beautiful leather sofa that had been donated to the bank. It was of a rich chocolate colour, big and bulky and masculine–the perfect sofa for a man cave, we decided. But there was a problem. The middle cushion was torn. It wasn’t a large tear, but the ugly gash in the leather rendered the entire piece of furniture flawed.
Blanket to the rescue! We decided that a nice throw would cover the tear and still allow the sofa to be used with pleasure by someone who needed it. Blankets don’t remove flaws. They only cover them. Were I to see a sofa like this in a furniture store, I would immediately ask, “So, what’s under the blanket?”
The other place where the phrase, “white as snow” is used in Scripture is in Daniel 7.9:
As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire.
In Daniel’s vision, he saw Christ adorned in clothing as white as snow. It is more than coincidental to me that Christ is pictured in this way, with clothes of blinding white, signifying His purity and righteousness–the very righteousness He gives to those who trust Him as their only Saviour from sin, as Paul declares in 2 Cor 5.21:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Christmas not just about covering up our sin with something that looks nice but doesn’t remove what’s underneath. It’s about righteousness. The righteousness we don’t have and desperately need. The righteousness Jesus has and freely gives.
Isaiah promises that through Him who would come as a helpless infant in Bethlehem, our sins would not be covered by snow, but would become as the snow itself.
Only God can change scarlet to white, blood to snow. Only God can effect such a transformation in a human heart, so that when He whips off the blanket in the day of judgment, He sees in us the perfection of His own Son.
Scripture quotation, including Isaiah 1.18, are from the English Standard Version. The image is from the Alyeska Ski Resort.