Folks often wish for a white Christmas, and this year many of us had one. The snow was fluffy here, not wet, and maybe only two inches deep. But looking out at the trees covered in it, what stands out is its whiteness.

Nothing in nature is whiter than snow. In fact, the Bible compares the shining of an angel to the bright whiteness of snow (Daniel 7:9; Matthew 28:3). The risen Christ in John’s vision (Revelation 1:14) is even described as having a head and hair “as white as snow” (Revelation 1:14).

But my favorite image for the use of snow is in Isaiah 1:18:
“‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord.
‘Though your sins are as scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow. . .’”

In context, Isaiah is recording the Lord’s invitation to repentance, to forsake the hollow rituals of formal worship in favor of a genuine relationship with Him. It is not that the sacrifices under the Law were not good, for they had been commanded by the Lord Himself. But temple worship had become a substitute for true religion, and had, for many, been emptied of love and devotion.

This makes the image all the more striking. The Lord knows our wandering hearts are so distracted by the cares of the world and our pet sins (which cut the nerve of worship), that we need to refocus upon Him. But how? We’ve strayed so far. Our sins have been great, and oh, so very many. How can we possibly re-approach the God we’ve abandoned?

God’s promise quiets our hearts by answering those questions: “It is simple, Child. I will take your sins away. I will cleanse you by cleansing them within you. The sins that have stained you as deeply as dye stains cloth, those very scarlet, deep set sins, I will turn white as snow.”


In Psalm 51, there is another, more ironic, even more remarkable exchange of scarlet and whiteness. After David’s sins of adultery and murder, he prays, repentantly, that God would purge him with hyssop. That is a reference to the Passover celebration in which the hyssop branch is dipped in the blood of an innocent lamb, and applied to the door so that the death angel would “pass over” that house (Exodus 12:21-23).

David understood that under the Law, there was no sacrifice for capital crimes, and that he needed cleansing that the Law could not provide. As God’s prophet, David knew that only a divine provision over and above what the Law could provide was necessary. And he prayed that the ultimate Passover Lamb’s blood would be applied to him, with the result that he, the scarlet sinner, would now be “whiter than snow.”

What is whiter? A forgiven sinner.

It gives you a new perspective on a white Christmas, doesn’t it?

“Surely he has born our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities.
Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.”
Isaiah 53:4, 5

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