One of the great joys in my life is a nice, steamy hot bath. I was recently reminded, however, of a time in my life when cruel fate denied me that pleasure, sending my entire existence into a tailspin.
We have a natural gas fueled on-demand water heater, and it’s great. While the installation cost was steep, we are pretty sure it paid for itself in the first year or so.
Through no fault of its own, however, our water heater was installed a tad sloppily, and for that reason, on a particularly cold night in early January, the pipes leading to and from it froze.
That morning, as I attempted to draw water for coffee and was greeted with nothing from the faucet but a burp, I was stricken with an acute pang of what the “Peanuts” gang first diagnosed as post-Christmas letdown.
Don’t Even Think About It
I threw a gigantic Christmas open house on the second Thursday of December in those days. I tried to deck the halls with such vigor and ferocity that a guest could look anywhere in the joint and not espy a non-Christmassy nook or cranny.
So I had been dealing with chronic post-Christmas letdown since I started taking down my Christmas decorations. If I meant for the finery to come down before my birthday party in April, I had to get started early. Usually on Boxing Day.
Down came the garlands on the windows, into their bins went the special Christmas stuffed animals, off came the Santa hats from all the regular stuffed animals. The tree would stay up until Epiphany, and the lights stay up year round.
It always made me think of another cartoon series of my youth, “Dennis the Menace.” In one strip, Dennis’ mom and dad were taking down the Christmas decorations, and Dennis said, “Want to help?! I don’t even want to watch!!!”
I could top Dennis on that one — I didn’t even want to think about taking down any more decorations. I didn’t even want to get out of bed that morning.
And yet, here was the morning.
And yet, all that stuff needed to be done.
And yet — well, there were lots of “and yets” piling up and bearing down at that moment.
And then I thought, “Hey wait a minute … I wrote a sermon about the power of those words, ‘and yet.’ ”
Part of it went, “In the world of science and politics and law, the phrase ‘therefore’ is very powerful. We say A follows B, which follows C, and therefore the hypothesis is validated; therefore you should vote for me; therefore the defendant is guilty.”
If A and B inevitably lead to C, when we look at all the tragedy and misery and loneliness and heartache and trouble in the world, what we see and what we know will inevitably lead us to bury ourselves under our blankets and never venture forth again. As My Fabulous Bride DebbieMiller is fond of saying, “Some days it just doesn’t pay to wake up and gnaw through the restraints.
If A and B inevitably lead to C, therefore: Why bother taking that Christmas stuff down?
I remember asking my mom, “Why can’t we leave it up ‘til next year?” And Mom said, “If you leave it up all year, then it won’t be special next year.”
OK, fair enough. Therefore: Why bother with another Christmas? Why not just get rid of all that stuff and save yourself the trouble?
A Gift from God
And that is where I found myself on that brilliant and yet dismal Saturday afternoon. Like Jeremiah says, everything’s kind of lousy now, but things will look up. They always do.
The plumber would show up, and it would cost a bunch of money, and it would be a pain, but I’d get over it. I was already out of bed, so the worst part of the day was over.
And yet — I had forgotten something. I had forgotten that on bright, crystal-clear Saturday mornings, even if you can’t bear to drag yourself out of bed, and even if the east side of your house doesn’t get much sunshine, the temperature rises during the day.
There was a drip, then a dribble, then a trickle, and then, tons of hot water!
Sing aloud on the height of Zion!
I was radiant over the goodness of the Lord!
I could have a shower!
I could run the dishwasher!
I could do laundry!
My life was like a watered garden!
A hot, watered garden!
I know, all these years later it sounds silly and maybe even borderline sacrilegious, but my pipes had frozen solid and yet, just hours later, brothers and sisters, I had hot water!
The days started getting longer on December 22, but we still face plenty of dark and cold. Experience counsels that the worst of winter is probably still ahead of us.
But I think I may make it if I keep remembering: Every day is a gift from God. Every day that brings us 24 hours closer to death also presents us with another chance to know the grace and truth and mercy that has always been held out to the people of God.
Generations before Christ was born in Bethlehem, His spirit filled the vision of the prophet Jeremiah:
‘Rejoice in the bounty of the Lord — the grain, the new wine and the olive oil, the young of the flocks and herds. They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more. Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow … and my people will be filled with my bounty,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:12-14).