To me they are still two of the most beautiful words in the English language: snow day. Even long after childhood, they hold all the old power of their frozen magic. I can’t help myself. When the winter storms threaten, I go to bed rooting like a schoolboy for a few more inches. We could have used a few more this week. The Philadelphia Public School District had a snow day on Monday, which was great, but we almost had another one on Wednesday. All we needed was another inch or two of snow and a little more ice.
What’s so special about snow days? First, there is the beauty of the snow itself, which is magnificent in its variety. Each snowfall has a different texture and consistency, depending on the temperature and humidity. We get icy sleet, scattered flurries, dry powder, and my personal favorite: packing snow. Then there is the almost infinite variety of the flakes themselves, each of which is an individual masterpiece.
An estimated one septillion snowflakes fall on the earth every year. Their design follows the laws of pattern formation–simple laws of physics that give rise to an almost infinite complexity of forms. It is true: no two snowflakes are exactly the same, which leads snow expert Ken Libbrecht to ask, “Where is the creative genius that produces these miniature masterpieces of frozen water quite literally out of thin air?” [quoted in Usha Lee McFarling, “Snowflakes: Lessons and Loveliness,” Philadelphia Inquirer (January 26, 2004), D1].
There is no need to ask where the creative genius is; we know his Name. Nor is it quite right to say that snowflakes are made out of thin air. A snowflake is an ice crystal made when water vapor condenses around a piece of dust. The story of each snowflake thus traces our own destiny as believers in Jesus Christ: from dust to glory. Out of the dust of our humanity, God’s Spirit is working to make us sparkle in all his splendor. Each person–and each snowflake–is a testimony to the artistry of our beauty-loving God.
Snow days display God’s power as well as his beauty. Every time it snows, we are reminded of God’s sovereign control over nature. “He gives snow like wool; he scatters hoarfrost like ashes” (Ps. 147:16), and “to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth’ ” (Job 37:6). When Job questioned his divine authority, God claimed his rule over the snow as proof for his sovereign power. He said, “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war? (Job 38:22-23). No, Job hadn’t seen any of that, but whenever it snowed, he knew that it was the handiwork of God.
Then there is the rest and recreation a snow day brings. The first thing I want to do is go sledding, then maybe build a fort and throw snowballs. And after that, hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire. But first we have to shovel, which is a joy in itself, because the physical exertion invigorates the body and the soul.
Whatever we do with it, a snow day forces us to break away from our usual routine. Few things are quite as effective at immobilizing a city as a heavy snowfall, and this is a gift of God’s grace. When the snow is too heavy for us to go out, we are liberated from the tyranny of the urgent. This makes a snow day a kind of irregular Sabbath–a day to be still and know that God is God. Often we find that some of the things are on our agenda were not quite so important after all. Somehow life goes on without everything going according to schedule.
I have to admit that most mothers I know aren’t quite as enthusiastic about snow as I am. For them the words “snow day” hold the potential frustrations of cabin fever, indoor adventures, and unfinished housework. But God sympathizes with all of this, and has given the mothers of his children a Bible verse to fit their situation: “She is not afraid of snow for her household” (Prov. 31:21).
Snow was exceptionally uncommon in the dry climate of ancient Israel, so it is not surprising that some people were afraid of it. The Israelites could see the snow on distant mountaintops, but it rarely fell where they lived. It must have been all the more beautiful when it did fall, and perhaps this explains why the Bible uses snow as a metaphor for three of God’s greatest gifts.
First, there is God’s word, which goes out from God’s mouth like snow from heaven (Isa. 55:10). As it goes out, the word of God has the same life-giving, fruit-producing effect that snow has when it waters the earth.
Second, there is God’s Son, our Savior. The Bible uses the image of snow to describe the radiant resplendence of the glorified Christ. According to Daniel, “his clothing was white as snow” (Dan. 7:9), and in his revelation, John testifies that the same is true of his hair (Rev. 1:14). In his resurrection body, Jesus sparkles like the snow.
Finally, there is the forgiveness of our sins. That too is like the pure, white snow. When David was desperate for God to take away his guilt, he prayed, “wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7). His prayers were answered, because God has promised to forgive every penitent sinner: “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isa. 1:18).
Every shovel-full of snow preaches the mighty wonders of God–the power of his Word, the beauty of his Son, and the purity of our forgiveness. All of which is something to think about–and something to praise–the next time we get a snow day. I can hardly wait!
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