The Fab Four is a Beatles tribute band (We don’t say “impersonator” anymore, possibly because it suggests full-blown identity theft.) An NYPD officer once gave me their Christmas album. It’s a wonderful piece of work—versions of 20 Christmas songs, each given the sound and style of a Beatles hit. “Away in a Manger” sounds like “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” (with a marvelous interplay between “hey” and “hay”). “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” is made to sound like “When I’m 64.” The last track is “Jingle Bells,” done in the style of Lennon’s bizarre “Tomorrow Never Knows.” In the original Beatles recording, Lennon repeats the phrase “It is knowing” at the end of the song. The Fab Four Christmas version makes a microscopic change to the enunciation of that phrase so that it becomes: “It is snowing…it is snowing…it is snowing…”
Every time I see a snowflake, I play that recording.
I never saw a white Christmas in my first 23 years of life. South Texas simply doesn’t have such critters. (Actually, in our area they’re not guaranteed either. That’s why you don’t see a single flake in Miracle on 34th Street). Where I grew up, you got a snowfall in February about every four years—and it melted by midday. (So you hurried up to throw those snowballs!) Since moving northward, I’ve enjoyed numerous white Christmases. In fact, in my very first year as a pastor, the snow was so heavy that we cancelled Christmas services! What I hope for every year is enough snow to make things atmospheric but not to impede worshipers’ travel to church.
Snow is not essential for Christmas. I doubt if there was any actual snow at the first Christmas, in the Holy Land. In Babe, the little pig’s owners celebrate Christmas in the summertime—it’s Australia! (Another Christmas song, where a prisoner envisions his family’s Christmas, notes, “It’ll probably be a hundred degrees”—that song is also from Australia!) But snow does enhance Christmas. That’s why we sing a wistful song like “White Christmas” (whose initial popularity can be explained by its debut in 1942—when lots of Americans were in places like North Africa and the South Pacific, experiencing their first Christmas without snow!)
Snow doesn’t just enhance Christmas in a cosmetic way. There also is a spiritual component to it. Because the Bible uses the image of snow in a wonderful passage about forgiveness: “Come now, 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 shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18). Isaiah is using snow as an image of God purging away our guilt—through His forgiveness, we become pure and clean. “Pure as the driven snow” is an old saying—and that’s what we become in God’s eyes when our sins are washed away in the blood of Christ.
Blessed Martin Luther, our father in the faith, has a vivid, earthy way of imagining this. He invites us to think of a pile of unpleasant, malodorous trash. (Luther actually talks about an extremely organic pile with a very bad odor—but I’m sure not going to write about such a thing in a church newsletter!) But then the landscape is blanketed by snow. Everything is covered—including the pile. And topped by a pure mantle of snow, the disgusting pile…becomes beautiful!
Luther invites us to think of ourselves as being like those piles…sinful and stinking to high heaven. (No, he was not a big self-esteem guy). But then the spotless righteousness of the crucified Christ covers us…and we become beautiful in God’s eyes! Yes, we still are sinners—but Christ’s shining holiness has made us beautiful. (Actually—you can get some genuine, Godly self-esteem from that idea.)
I never noticed this before now, but this passage about snow is in the same chapter as another Christmas-y verse: The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand (Isaiah 1:3). Reading that passage from our perspective, it inevitably makes us think of Christmas—cows and donkeys and mangers! (A “manger” is a feed box for animals—it’s related to the familiar “Mangia!”) Having a donkey/ox verse and a snow verse in the same chapter of the Bible is kind of…cool (pun intended!) The message I get is: The Son of God clothed Himself in human nature, and was laid in a manger among the animals…so that He could die on the cross and clothe me with His righteousness, so that the ugliness of my sin is covered by His beauty.
Bring on the white stuff! I want to hear those words from the faux-Lennon: “It is snowing…it is snowing…it is snowing…”
God loves you and so do I!
Pastor David W. Anglin