A snowfall can afford us a most serene opportunity. We bundle up, step outside, and quietly stand still; we breathe in the cold air, our lungs and minds expanded by its brisk freshness. It’s incredible how loud the silence is in the falling of each frozen flake. Much like a dead man’s float in a pool, let yourself be subjugated to the gentle descent of its lightening burden. If we stand out there long enough, mesmerized by winter’s majesty, we eventually become part of it.
As we and the world around turn white, the hustle and bustle of the everyday tussle is hushed for a season of cleansing. These weeks of winter press pause on creation, as if placing it in the freezer to preserve nutrients to live and give another day. As participants in this seasonal process, we, too, are compelled to cease striving, be still, and be rejuvenated.
In Isaiah’s grand message regarding the sinfulness of God’s people, their impending judgment, and God’s eventual salvation, he incorporates this snowy imagery, writing “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.”
It’s interesting the author likens sins to the color of blood, that substance which preserves life, as if to infer the abundant splattered presence of sin is the dowsing of life. But like a fresh fallen blanket of unspoiled snow, God’s salvation covers the scarlet splatter, depicting us as a picture of purity. Or if snow seems too cold an image, Isaiah also names wool, that earthy material mothers and grandmas use to knit sweaters to warm their darling young ones. Purity covers and cleanses, wraps and warms.
Isaiah doesn’t just say “Cease to do evil”; he follows it with “learn to do good”. Purification is not simply the avoiding of the sinful; it is the pursuit of the sacred. Too often we define purity by what we avoid; purity is also cultivated by devotion to habits of holiness.
Over the past month, a friend of mine has kept to a challenge he has called “No Porn November”, posting little thoughts daily as a reminder to remain porn-free. It has compelled me to take on a similar challenge, which I’m calling “White as Snow December”; it’s simply a concerted effort to cultivate purity in all my ways, attitudes, thoughts, habits, relationships, intentions. Everything in our lives—the way we think, treat others, carry ourselves, habitualize—can be corrupted with cynicism, stained with self-centeredness, fouled with frustration, wrecked by the relativism of righteousness.
All of life and personhood requires occasional cleansing. The anticipatory season of Advent is the perfect time for purification as we “make ready the way of the LORD”. I’m curious to see what could happen through this month of December if my many ways could be flushed and fashioned in the torrents of God’s grace and truth; I invite you to the challenge as well.
Purification is neither hurried, nor delayed. Living in ways that are sacred and pure is not done with hustle and bustle. It is cultivated in gentle steps, as if gradually moving into the rhythms of God’s grace. The poet Wendell Berry is succinct:
Suppose we did our work
like the snow, quietly, quietly,
leaving nothing out.