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From wintry darkness emerges the Old Testament prophet Zephaniah who concludes his short prophecy with a Psalm of Joy:

Yahweh your God is in your midst,

As a victorious warrior.

He will exult with joy over you,

He will renew you by his love;

He will dance with shouts of joy for you

As on a day of festival.

These consoling interventions of Yahweh God are addressed to the anawim or lowly, poverty-stricken Jews living in Judea under the reign of the corrupt King Josiah in the seventh century, BCE. These are the remnant who remained faithful to the law of Moses; they’ve not engaged in the worship of Baal, a pagan goddess of agriculture, nor any filthy practices of their neighbors.

What precedes this Psalm of Joy, however, are Zephaniah’s condemnation of the religious and moral corruption of his people and the dire destruction of Judea on the Day of Yahweh. Underscoring these shattering pronouncements is Zephaniah’s sense of sin as a moral offence against the living God: abomination of abominations.

In my perception, nothing has changed much—even the scraggly street preacher (that I once saw while stopped at a red light) and his words, “Jesus saves! Jesus saves! “careening from his hand-held microphone under a sweltering sun.

Yet, this Psalm of Joy is included in today’s readings for the Third Sunday of Advent celebrated in the Christian liturgy. There’s still time to learn …

As I recall the Genesis story of Cain and Abel (4: 1–16), I’m not as shocked by our distraught world, shimmering with incurable disease, violence, and corruption. From its very beginnings, evil has seeded our world with the Seven Deadly Sins: anger, pride, lust, greed, sloth, gluttony, and envy. I know, because I have all of them, as does everyone else.

When failed instincts succumb to temptation to have more, to be more, or to leave a trail of monuments in their honor, violence inevitably ensues, whether around the kitchen table or the conference table.

Examples of evil in my lifetime are rife: World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. The Killing Fields in Cambodia, Stalin’s Gulag Archipelago, Castro’s Cuba, and the corruption of Central American governments—all buzzed on the AP, but only handing out piecemeal information. The 1960s assassinations of President Kennedy, his brother Robert, and Dr. Martin Luther King revealed the agendas of the underworld.

Lynchings and other nasty racist practices also killed bodies and spirits. Our legislators declared war on unborn babies. Clergy sexually abused altar boys, leaving irreparable psycho-social harm. The proliferation of drugs contributing to the watered-down ethos in global societies still smells to high heaven. And the hype of the sports and entertainment worlds distract from significant life values.

But as with the plight of Cain after he murdered his brother, we are not left without resources to thrive in the midst of this madness. Those practicing faith in God are marked and will find their way, even to their deaths.

The Twelve Steps help scrutinize my behavior.

It came unexpectedly: the blackened sky, the gale-strength winds, the spattering downpour, the truncated tree limbs and shrubs, the flickering of my electrical power—light-dark-light-dark light-dark—an interval of light, then more episodes of flickering, then light. It was seven P.M., supper completed in my kitchen. I prayed. Mercifully, the power did hold fast, supporting the oxygen concentrator for the night.

Later, this metaphor surfaced. The uncertainty between the dark-light flickers mirrored the “Yes-Buts” that occur when not fully conscious and turned away from God’s direction for the next breath. Like sitting on the fulcrum of a seesaw, going nowhere, I’m adrift within instinctual quicksand, rife with the seven deadly sins: pride, anger, greed, lust, gluttony, envy, and sloth—integral to my humanness. 

Another’s suggestion can easily trigger my “Yes-But” reaction, for that’s what it is—not a response. Imbalance sets in. Anger, pride, and sloth take center stage banked by monstrous fears. My “Yes,” spoken behind a mask of subterfuge, serves to placate the friend’s feelings for the offered suggestion, while the “But,” oozing with pride, reveals my self-centered ego. Sloth clouds my judgment with resistance to change, especially if it involves sacrifice.

Living in the indecisiveness of “Yes-Buts” deepens quagmire existence. I know. I’ve been there. No effort, no spiritual growth.

There is a way out, as I’ve often blogged: the Twelve Steps of any recovery program. Discovery of a Higher Power reverses such “Yes-But” reactions as we clean up our inner world with transforming grace and become honest. It works if you work it. light-color returns.

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