Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Prophet of Advent - Christmas Day

Read Isaiah 61

when the broken toys
are set out
by the curb,
maybe then
we can find the time
to mend the broken-hearted:

when the Christmas charges
are all paid off:
maybe then
we can fund health care
for the poorest
of God's children;

when we are finally free
of all the parties,
the gatherings, the obligations:
maybe then
we can notice
the prisoners;

when the tree comes down,
when the lights are put away,
when the ornaments are packed up:
maybe then
we can wipe away
the tears
of the mourners.

when God's Spirit
comes upon us
(and it did during the night
whether we noticed
or not)
maybe then
we will know
(and live)
the real meaning
of Christmas.


Maybe when the new year begins,
God of Bethlehem, we will know
that we are called to be children of
the Spirit, those who can repair our
ruined cities, who can welcome strangers,
who can be sown as the seeds of your
rightousness. Maybe, just maybe. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: Christmas Eve-B

Read Isaiah 60

Here in the States, the National Toy Hall
of Fame is inducting a new 'member.'
Joining such luminaries as Barbie, Legos,
Mr. Potato Head, and Slinky is:

a cardboard box.

Yes, the folks at the Hall of Fame have
finally recognized what all parents (and
kids) have known for years - the best 'toy'
to stimulate imagination is usually the
box in which the toy you spent a lot of
money on comes in. Especially if it is
a grown-up toy, like a refrigerator, or
washer or dryer.

Forget about the hottest video games;
forget about the shiny bike;
forget about all the new clothes;
and watch in wonder and joy as the kids
turn the thing you would put out with
the trash into the best Christmas gift
of all.

After all, what else can be the Titanic
one minute and the next a rocket to the
moon? What can be a souped up race
car in the morning, and a limousine taking
a young 'bride' to her wedding that afternoon?
What other gift allows, no, encourages
children to use their imagination the way
a big, empty cardboard box does?

One of the attributes of God that is revealed
to us over and over again in the book of
Isaiah is imagination. God is no 'let's do
it the way we've always done it" type.
God does not 'repeat' the same old tricks.
And if God does not expect us to always
behave as we did before we met God,
why should we expect God to stay the same?

No, God is endlessly creative; God is
amazingly imaginative.

God takes the most hopeless situation
and turn it into a miracle. God takes death
and twists it into life; God takes suffering
and creates salvation; God takes people who
over and over refuse to be obedient and
faithful, and turns us into the ones who will
help bring in the kingdom.

God is the one who takes all the 'toys' the
world would offer us and dumps them out
on the floor. And then, God uses that great
big empty box to imagine a world at peace,
a people redeemed, a creation restored to
wholeness, a Baby who shows all the grown
ups how to love, to care, to serve.


Imagine us at peace with one another, Prince
of Peace; imagine us able to talk with each
other, Wonderful Counselor; imagine us
willing to become poor and weak in order
to serve your children, Mighty God; imagine
us able to be faithful, not just for a few
moments on Sunday morning, but in all
the moments we live, Everlasting Father.
And then imagine us going out and telling
all the people we meet of the One we have
found this night in a stable in Bethlehem,
and how that little Baby has transformed
our lives forever. Imagine that, God,
imagine that! Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 4th Friday-B

Read Isaiah 58

A friend of mine refers to me as a
'curmudgeon-in-training' and I have
to admit that there are times when I do
resemble that remark! I guess I have
reached that age (that occurs in every
generation) where the things (music, movies,
TV, behavior) of the younger crowd
annoy me.

I do hope that I have managed to become
a little 'looser' in worship. I enjoy telling
a good joke in a sermon, and find that the
genuine, spontaneous occasions of laughter
in a service can add to its meaning. But,
I still feel uncomfortable when people applaud
for the choir/musicians, or with some of the
'gimmicks' (IMHO) that some churches resort
to, or some of the so-called praise tunes that
are combined with rather insipid lyrics.

It seems like even God turns curmudgeonly
when it comes to worship. What we think
makes for good worship doesn't seem to float
God's boat, according to the prophet. Some
of the words we use sound hollow to God;
some of the actions we take don't begin to
tickle God's fancy; some of the songs we sing
seem to put God to sleep.

But, when we leave the communion Table and
go out and feed folks at the nearby shelter, that
turns God on; when we take off our winter coat
and drape it around a shivering child, that catches
God's attention; when we stop turning holy days
into holidays - then we will discover that true
worship we need.

Then we won't need to drag oursleves out of bed;
then we won't need to grumble as we get the
kids ready; then we won't dread Sundays, but we
will delight in them, even as we delight in
the Lord who has given the sabbath to us.


Sender of Sabbaths: as we serve others, as we
remove the burdens of others, as we clothe the
naked and feed the hungry, may we discover that
we are worshiping you in the way you would have
us do so. In Jesus' name. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 4th Thursday-B

Read Isaiah 55:1-12

There's still time, don't worry!
Our biggest, best, blow-out sale of
the season starts Friday at 4:00 a.m.
and runs until the shelves are empty!
So, come!

Don't forget the internet. If you order
online by noon on the 23rd, we absolutely,
positively guarantee (no money back, though)
delivery on Christmas Eve day (for a very small
surcharge, of course; but you will hardly feel
the pain, we guarantee).
So, come!

We will not be open for 'business' on Christmas
Day. If you want to celebrate the birth of
Jesus (and see a really wonderful production
at the same time!), be sure to attend one of
our 17 Christmas Eve Extravaganza Lollapaloozas
beginning at 8:00 a.m.
So, come!

And we do, don't we? Running out for that last
minute sale; chasing after that elusive 'perfect' gift;
looking for one more thing to stuff down the
stocking of our loved ones.

But how much time have we spend spend trying
to find those living waters that can quench that
thirst that continually parches our souls? Or
did we get to the bakery in time to purchase some
of that Bread of life that was on sale, or did we
think we could get by without it - again? Have
we managed to seek after the Lord, as diligently
as we tried to locate the hottest new toy?

The world entices us with all sorts of "things"
that are supposed to guarantee us the abundant

When will we come to the One who can give
us the life we so desperately long for?


We are still waiting for you to come to us,
God. Or are you waiting for us to come to
our senses, and seek you out? Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 4th Wednesday-B

Read Isaiah 52:13-53:12

We have no trouble telling the prosperous
of our times - for they have no trouble
showing us:
- their beach homes,
the ski chalets,
the apartment in the city;
- the Hummer with a DVD player
in the headrest of every seat,
and the shiny spinning rims;
- the clothes, the planes, the 'toys'.

And so, it is easy for us (and the rest
of the world) to overlook the ones
whose faces are aged and lined early
in life by hours, days, weeks, months,
and years of caring for the autistic child,
the parkinsoned mother, the alzheimered

And when the press makes a big deal
out of the breakup of (fill in the name
of your favorite celebrity couple),
there is no space for the story of the
couple who have spent the last 40
years serving the homeless and hungry
down at the inner city (of any city!)

And when 'breaking news' tells us of
the politicians latest vote to give more
to the rich, we turn away from those
who are filthy because they have no
running water in their apartments;
from those who are despised because
of their accent or color; from those who
have been crushed by the poverty the
world claims exists only in their
unwillingness to work.

It's easy to tell the prosperous, the
favored, the valued in our society;
so why does the prophet tell us that
the servant, the marred, the rejected,
'those' people! will be exalted by God?

Doesn't he read the papers, or watch TV?


What a perversion of your dreams, of your
hopes, of your love for the world, Advent
God, that we exalt all the wrong people and
overlook the ones you are bending down to
lift up. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

The Prophet of Advent: 4th Wednesday-B

Read Isaiah 52:13-53:12

We have no trouble telling the prosperous
of our times - for they have no trouble
showing us:
- their beach homes,
the ski chalets,
the apartment in the city;
- the Hummer with a DVD player
in the headrest of every seat,
and the shiny spinning rims;
- the clothes, the planes, the 'toys'.

And so, it is easy for us (and the rest
of the world) to overlook the ones
whose faces are aged and lined early
in life by hours, days, weeks, months,
and years of caring for the autistic child,
the parkinsoned mother, the alzheimered

And when the press makes a big deal
out of the breakup of (fill in the name
of your favorite celebrity couple),
there is no space for the story of the
couple who have spent the last 40
years serving the homeless and hungry
down at the inner city (of any city!)

And when 'breaking news' tells us of
the politicians latest vote to give more
to the rich, we turn away from those
who are filthy because they have no
running water in their apartments;
from those who are despised because
of their accent or color; from those who
have been crushed by the poverty the
world claims exists only in their
unwillingness to work.

It's easy to tell the prosperous, the
favored, the valued in our society;
so why does the prophet tell us that
the servant, the marred, the rejected,
'those' people! will be exalted by God?

Doesn't he read the papers, or watch TV?


What a perversion of your dreams, of your
hopes, of your love for the world, Advent
God, that we exalt all the wrong people and
overlook the ones you are bending down to
lift up. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 4th Tuesday-B

Read Isaiah 49:13-18

Growing up in the 'Deep South' of the United States, it seems that the only time I heard the prophets in a positive way was at Christmas, with either Isaiah (WonderfulCounselour . . .) or Micah (But you, Bethlehem Ephratha . . . ) being read.

On all other occasions, if the prophets were read in church, it was to warn us (of God's impending doom), to scare us (because God was coming to beat us), to urge us to repent (or else God will forget about us), to remind us to do good deeds.

After all, I remember being told, God is up in heaven keeping account of every word I speak, every thought I had, every thing I did. Indeed, God kept a ledger. There was that golden-covered, tooled with fine leather book into which the names of all the good folks went; and there was that tattered, ink-stained, much-thumbed-through thick journal where God listed all the bad things people did (especially you, Thom!).

And then, one day I ran across this wonderful passage from Isaiah (which I hope you have read!).

Forget us? How can God forget - that would be like a mother not kissing the skinned knees of her son; that would be like a father not sitting up late at night until his daughter comes home from her date!

Write down our names? Yes, God does that.

But not in any book - good or bad. God is not an accountant, God is a lover. And so, our names are written on the palms of God's hands. Not in a book that can be lost, or shelved, or given away, but in the one place where God will always see us, right next to the scars of the One who came to set us free from fears, from doubts, from death, from sin.


Our names are written in the palms of your hands, Compassionate God. What better reason do we have to sing for joy and to break forth into carols of praise? In Jesus' name, we pray.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 4th Monday-B

Read Isaiah 44:1-5

In today's world, it is a marvel to look at what athletes wear. Once it was just the school or team colors, but now it is about advertising. The players wear the shoes made by whatever company has a contract with the coach; shirts (and sometimes pants) are adorned with the logos of banks, of airlines, or other corporations. With the race car drivers here in the states, their cars (and the clothes) have so many badges/decals from so many different companies, do they ever wonder, "who do I belong to?"

Isaiah tells us there will be a time where we, as believers, will have no doubt about that question. Yahweh assures us, through the prophet, that when the waters of life flow through the depths of our souls, and when the spirit is planted securely in our hearts, then we will want everyone to know that we are the Lord's.

Has that time come yet for you? Are you willing to let people know the name by which you should be called? Do you have this believe posted on your website? Have you inscribed on the palms of your hands, "I am the Lord's"?

Or is it still so much easier to wear Tommy's, or Diane's, or Abercrombie's names?


Why am I hesitant to let folks know that I belong to you, Assuring God? Why do I keep writing your name on my hands in water colors that easily wash off? If you are willing to form me in your image, help me to be willing to inform others that I am yours. In hope, I pray. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 4th Sunday-B

Read Isaiah 43:14-25

It seems to be a common human urge. To go back: back to some storied past, some Golden Age, those good ol' days that we seem to miss.

If the church could only become the way it was 40 years ago; if schools only would reinstitute prayer; if society could only go back to the "simple" life we all knew as kids. Those are the refrains we sing.

Now look at the song God sings to theHebrews in exile in Babylon:
'do not remember the past,
don't think about the good ol' days:
watch and see the new thing I do!'

Instead of parting the sea as before, God will build a highway through Death Valley. Rather than turning a rock into a drinking fountain, God will make living waters readily available; instead of freedom from slavery, God will take away their sins.

Will they notice, or grumble that "that' snot the way we have done it in the past"? Will they pay attention, or write another book about the Golden Age of Babylon? Will they sit at home waiting for God to pass over their houses, or will they be waiting at the station to board the trian?

We can spend a lot of time reliving the past, or we can move into God's future. What will we do?


It seems that we look in the wrong place for you, Holy One. We look backwards into the past for a glimpse of you, but you are out there ahead of us, moving forward, waiting for us to catch up. Help us to set down what we yearn for, and grasp what you want to give us - new hopes, new life, new joy. In Advent hope, we pray. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 3rd Saturday-B

Read Isaiah 43:8-13

If you watch crime shows on television, you have seen episodes where the police are questioning witnesses to the crime, and everyone gives a different version of what happened. The testimony of the witnesses is so varied, that it is of little use to the authorities. And these witnesses are usually folks with good eyesight and hearing. Imagine what the police would have to deal with in trying to question witnesses who are sight or hearing impaired.

Isaiah tells us that it is precisely these people who are called into 'court' to give testimony about the One, True, and Holy God - Yahweh! Not those with PhD's sewn on their sleeves; not those who have years of experience in studying the Greek and Hebrew texts; not those who can quote Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Barth, and others without having to crack open a book.

No, it is the people we overlook; it is the least, the little, the lost, the last of the world; it is those that we call challenged, handicapped, disabled. They cannot see, so how could they tell us about a sunset? They cannot hear, so what do they know of angels' choruses? They cannot talk, so why should we bother?

Yet these are the ones God puts on the witness stand. These are the people God chooses to give testimony. These are the ones God decides are best able to tell of what God has been doing in the world.

It's the differently-gifted folks, Isaiah says, that best see what God has done. They are the ones who can point us to the wonders, the miracles, the salvation God is accomplishing in our midst. And I have one of those witnesses in my family, in Teddy, our mentally retarded and developmentally delayed son.

Teddy couldn't quote a Bible verse to you, but he knows without a doubt that God loves him. Teddy would think that John Calvin is the latest country singer on the radio. But when he comes forward to take communion, tears off a big chunk of bread, dunks it in the cup, pops it in his mouth, and grins, saying, "ummm, good!" he bears witness to each and every one of us.


Open our eyes to the ones who truly see you; open our ears to the ones who hear your whisper; open our hearts to the One who comes to fill us with all your gifts, that we might bear witness with joy, with hope, with grace. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 3rd Friday-B

Read Isaiah 42:1-9

The movie "Chariots of Fire" came out when I was in seminary. In the movie, the sister of Eric Liddell asks him to stop running and return to the mission field. He responds, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure."

Well, some of my classmates were livid with such a remark. That certainly smacks of works righeousness; and how dare any one imply that what I do (or anyone else does) causes God to reward us - with pleasure or anything else!

That's why I like this passage from Isaiah. One of the famed 'Servant Songs', it clearly tells us that God is not only capable of delighting in us (which I think was the intent in what Liddell said in the movie), God chooses to delight in us! But not because we run fast; not because we write well; not because we are stronger; not because we are smarter.

God delights in us when we serve!

And in a culture that exalts accomplishment; in a time when athletes demand millions and millions in salaries (and usually produce less and less); in a world where one strives to be No. 1, to be the most famous, to outdo everyone else, the prophet of Advent reminds us that God's people (that's you and me) are called to be servants.

Which doesn't necessarily mean doing menial work that no one else wants. It doesn't mean taking a pay cut to prove how 'humble' you are. It doesn't mean being a doormat for everyone else.

What we are called to do is to bring forth justice (note the word is used three times in the first four verses). It means making sure that the widows and orphans are taken care of, not just at Christmas, but every day of the year; it means taking God's light into all the shadowed corners of this world; it means mending those who are broken, and bringing new hope to those whose lives are growing dim.

And when we do these things, when we are faithful and obedient to God's call to servanthood, when we gladly reach out and take the hand of those in need, then we will feel God's pleasure, forever and ever.


I don't know why you insist on choosing to work through human beings - like Jesus, like me, like others. I'd rather run down the street, than clear it of poverty, Calling God. I'd rather spend time making more money than mentoring a young person. I'd rather get an award for my hard work, than serve food down at the shelter. But you have called me to service, Choosing God, and so I will listen and answer your call. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 3rd Thursday-B

It's the silence that gets to us.

Someone is mad and speaks their mind, and then doesn't say another word, while the silence stretches between us;

we've hurt a friend (and know it) and we say 'sorry' (and mean it). And when we stop talking (so they can graciously accept our apology), the pause goes on and on.

The silence had to have gotten to the people of God. The long pause in the conversation with Yahweh kept going on and on and on. The last word was about judgment, about Babylon, about exile.

And then silence.

And now, after some 160 years, God speaks again . . .

Read Isaiah 40:1-11

The sound of silence is broken with words of hope, of joy, of new promise.

To a people in exile, God comes to be with them in their lostness;

to a people who weep by the rivers flowing through Babylon, God comes singing of comfort and hope;

to a people who open the newspaper every day and read the bad news on every page, God comes bringing the good tidings (gospel) that freedom is at hand;

to a people who believed that God's final word was 'you're fired!', God comes saying, 'I'm not done with you yet.'

To all of us who are overwhelmed by the silence of the world, God comes with lips singing of joy and arms to gather us up and carry us home.


Break the silence which weighs us down, Comforting God, with your joyful good news that you are in our midst: to restore, to give hope, to lead us into your kingdom. In Advent joy, we pray. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 3rd WEdnesday-B

Read Isaiah 39:1-8

In this season of choirs of angels singing
of joy, some folks hear only a funereal dirge
in the recesses of their minds.

In this time of looking to heaven in hope
of seeing the Star over Bethlehem, there
are those for whom their days are a living

Even in the churches filled with Advent
banners, fragrant greenery, candles lighting
the Way, and children whose eyes sparkle
with eager anticipation, people sit next to
us overflowing with fears, bent by
anxieties, overcome with doubts.

These are our friends, our neighbors, our
coworkers, our spouses, our children, our
parents . . . and, if we are completely honest,
even ourselves.

We are the people who wonder if God really
will do something new this year. We question
whether or not the Baby will be born in our
hearts this Christmas. We look back over our
lives and see only despair, fear, pain, struggle;
all the confirmations that there is no future,
no joy, no peace. As Isaiah says, there is "nothing
left" in our lives, in our hearts, in our spirits.

We know, better than anyone else can, how
the Israelites felt as this first section of the
prophet comes to an end. We look to the
horizon, and all we can see is Babylon - in
whatever form our fears take. We seek
community, and find ourselves living in
exile. We look for friendship, only to discover
we are surrounded by strangers.

And we ask the age-old question: 'where is God?'


We mourn; we wail; we watch; we wait.
Where are you, God? Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 3rd Tuesday-B

Read Isaiah 35:1-6a

At breakfast this morning, Bonnie asked me
if I would have commuted Tookie Williams'
sentence. (He was the co-founder of the Crips
street gang, and was executed last night after
being convicted of murdering four people).

I told her that if I had been governor of California,
I would have commuted his death sentence to life
in prison without parole. Of course, if I were
governor of any state, I would commute the death
sentence of any inmate on death row.

And, if I could, I would commute the sentence
Teddy lives under, of always being mentally
retarded, always being different from most
people (especially those he feels closest to),
always having to live in places other than where
he would choose.

And, if I could, I would commute the sentence
that Teddy, and my friend Joanne, and David's
sister, and thousands and thousands of others
live under of always wondering if that tummy
ache, that twinge, that ache in the bone means
that the cancer has returned.

But I can't. As much as I wish, and want, and
would if I could, it won't happen.

But Isaiah tells us that one day it will happen,
because God can do it, and will do it. Sin,
death, the dysfunctions and disabilities and
differences that plague so many people, will
be taken away from them. Not only will the
blind see, but cancer survivors won't have
to lay awake worrying. Nor only will the deaf
hear, but children will leap out of wheelchairs
and begin dancing. Not only will the speechless
be able to sing, but people who were once retarded
will win the Nobel Prize for mathematics.

Of course, the frustration is that God will not do
it until God is ready. But the promise is there.
So in the meantime, all I can do, all any of us
can do is

'Be strong, do not fear!'


It is never easy to be strong, Compassionate God,
when it is our children, our spouses, our friends,
ourselves who are ill, who suffer, who die. So,
strengthen us with your grace, and send your Spirit
to take away our fears, even as we await that day
when the only strength we need is to lift our
loved ones up and swing them up in the air. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 3rd Monday-B

Read Isaiah 32:1-8

Surely someone will come:
to bring peace to a warring world;
to touch the hurting with healing grace;
to hand out hope to the people the world ignores;
to touch the oil of gladness to the lips
of those who mourn.

Surely someone will come:
to water our fallow souls
and plant the seeds
of justice and righteousness
deep in our hearts.

Surely someone will come:
to be the oasis
where our parched spirits
can be refreshed
so we can serve others.

Surely someone will come:
to shade our eyes
from the bright glare
of society's seductions.

Surely someone will come?


Indeed you have come to us, Approaching God:
in the sheaves of hope Jesus carries in his arms,
in the healing grace of his fingertips, in the joy
of his heart that is shared with all people. May
we receive you as you come to us in this day,
this season, this life you have given us. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 3rd Sunday-B

Read Isaiah 25:6-10a

God is coming to be with us.

But it's not just the fact that God is coming
to be with us which the prophet celebrates.
It is also the joyous good news that the
very Kingdom of God is arriving.

And how do we know this?

The royal throne, the seat of absolute power,
will be replaced with a manger, which holds the
One who has set aside his equality with God
to become one of us.

The palace, with all its gold, its embroidered
finery, its jewel-encrusted china, will be torn
down as God takes up residence in a barn.

The center of God's rule will move from
the royal city, where kings plot and armies
clash, where politicians hire speech writers
to come up with the best sound bites,
where high priests dine in splendor
as the poor serve in despair, to tiny,
insignificant Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
where choirs of angels proclaim the birth
of the Messiah.

The One we wait for is coming to be with
us, the prophet proclaims: in unexpected places,
at times not on our calendar, in people we would
normally choose to ignore.

God is coming to be with us: to upset our
applecarts filled with wants, to feed us with
peace and hope till our bellies ache, to grasp the
hem of the divine robe and wipe away our tears,
to take away the shroud of death with which we
have wrapped ourselves.

God is coming: for no better reason than to
save us.


Come. Please come. Do not delay, do not wait
any longer. Come, God-with-us, come. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 2nd Saturday-B

Read Isaiah 25:1-5

The story of our faith begins in a garden
(see Genesis), and ends in a city (the new
Jerusalem of Revelation). So, it should
not surprise us that cities stand under God's
will, and God's chastening.

And it seems that the cities back in Isaiah's
time were no different than our modern cities.
The city growls at the homeless, who are only
looking for shelter on a winter's night, hoping
they will leave the city limits and be someone
else's problem.

The city is on the prowl for the poor, making
sure they know which neighborhoods are theirs -
the one with few stores, with fewer services,
but with more police, more rundown housing,
more problems with sewage, with water, with lights.

The city sows the seeds for greed as leadership spends
millions on demands from corporations and sports teams,
who threaten to leave if the money is not forthcoming,
while schools disintegrate and funding for medical
services for the poor are cut.

Yet, there is hope, Isaiah tells us. God's great powers
of reversal will be at work once again, when the city
becomes the place where the homeless find refuge
in God's heart (and ours), and God's hands (along with
ours) shelter the poor with hope, with peace, with love.

The only thing we have to decide is which city we
want to live in.


We live in our comfortable suburbs, using the city
only for sporting events, fancy meals, and shopping.
We know which neighborhoods to avoid, and which
streets not to drive down. And so, we miss seeing
you, Reversing God, sweeping up the broken glass,
giving flu shots to the poor, mentoring children in
the schools we ignore. Help us to move in with
you and rebuild our ruined cities. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 2nd Friday-B

Read Isaiah 19:19-22

As we prepare for Advent, are we prepared
for God to do something new and unexpected?
Or should God only operate according to
what we expect?

As we ready ourselves to celebrate the grace
which came down at Christmas, are we ready
for God to pour out that grace on others,
especially the people we don't like?

As we anticipate the birth of the One who
comes with healing in one hand and hope
in the other, can we accept the notion that
the Babe might want to offer those gifts
to people who have hurt us?

Isaiah tells us this is the way God operates.
Unexpectedly, gracious to all, willing to
heal even those who have caused us pain.

Egypt (you mean the Egypt that enslaved the
Hebrews, who worked them to death, who would
not let them go free) will be delivered, just like
the Hebrews, just like us.

They will find themselves, the prophet tells us,
in a time of oppression. And they will cry out.
And when they cry out, God (as God seems to do
to everyone who cries out) will hear and will
respond, And then (just like the Hebrews, just
like us), they will know God, they will worship
God, they will make promises to God.

And there is more - God will heal them as well.

Why? Because that is what God does.

Yes, God can judge; yes, God can smite; yes, God
can destroy.

But best of all, God listens, God delivers, God
restores, God heals, God loves.

The Hebrew children who were oppressed;
the Egyptians with their history of oppression;
even us.

Listening, delivering, restoring, healing, loving.
Now that's something to prepare for!


Heal us, Restoring God, for we cry out to you.
Weighed down by the desire for more, oppressed
by narcissim, driven to distraction by the demands
of our culture - hear us and set us free. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 2nd Thursday-B

Read Isaiah 14:1-2

I may be wrong, but I don't think the Christ Child is turning over in the manger because I might say 'Happy Holidays' to someone instead of 'Merry Christmas." And I don't believe God loses any sleep over the fact that a school may choose to have a 'holiday' program rather than a Christmas one, or that a business has a 'holiday tree' instead of a Christmas tree.

But I do think that God is bothered by the fact that so many folks choose to spend so much time arguing about which greeting, which phrase, which usage is right - especially when there are so many people in need of a word of hope, of grace, of joy.

I do believe that the Christ Child weeps because we choose to hold so much resentment and express so much anger towards people who don't appreciate the "reason for the season" - as if the reason God became human was to make it okay to speak so judgmentally and unkindly about those who are also God's children.

I am pretty sure the Spirit of Advent must shake her head whenever we try to blame the politicians, the stores, the corporations for 'taking Christ out of Christmas' when so many of us will spend more money in these few weeks than we have probably given all year to feed the hungry, or clothe the naked, or nurse the sick back to health.

We can celebrate the birth of Jesus by continuing to choose blame, anger, resentment, judgment in this holiest of seasons. Or we can, like Isaiah tells us God does, choose to have compassion.


We would not like to open our presents on Christmas and discover them filled with the ashes of bitterness, or the scraps of anger from our hearts. So help us, Desire of the Ages, to crave compassion, to wish for wisdom, to glean grace in the coming days, so we might live more like you. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 2nd Wednesday-B

Read Isaiah 12 (don't worry, it's only 6 verses!)

Dusty has moved into our hearts (and home). Though he has only been with us for two days, it seems a lot longer. And while no one will ever be able to replace Cocoa the Wonder Dog, Dusty will have his own adventures, his own personality, his own stories to tell.

Dusty is a 3 1/2 year-old golden retriever who was put up for adoption by his owners because they are moving to a smaller place that cannot accomodate a large dog. We found him through a marvelous rescue group called GRRAND (if you wanted, you could find Dusty's picture on their website under 'Golden Boys'). The providential part of the story is that Dusty literally lived right around the corner from us. In fact, Cocoa and I used to see him when we would go by his house on our walks.

And as a retriever, Dusty naturally loves water. When he is thirsty, he runs over to his dish and slurps up several mouthfuls, splashing and making a great noise. When he comes in from a long walk, or playing in the backyard, he heads over and drinks deeply from this simple gift, reviving his lagging energy.

Most of the time, when I am fatigued from ministry, from life, from battling the bureaucrats who try to convince me they know what is "best" for Teddy, I revive myself with chocolate or caffeine, not God's living waters. When my soul is running on empty and I thirst for something to fulfill me, it is easy to forget the simple gifts of friendship, of silence, of peace that God gives me, and to turn to things more stimulating.

Maybe this Advent, I need to dip my bucket into the wells of salvation more often and drink more deeply.


Am I nervous to stir your living waters, Wellspring of Joy, because I think someone might need to drink before me? Am I afraid to splash and make noise with the salvation you offer to me, because someone might point at me and laugh? Revive me, Tender Heart, that I might sing your praises and give you thanks. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 2nd Tuesday-B

Read Isaiah 11:1-9

Chapter 10 of Isaiah ends with the ax chopping down the forests, leaving a field of stumps. Perhaps, as they heard this pronouncement, the people thought of the stump mentioned by the prophet back in chapter 6 (vs. 13), the stump representing failure, disaster, the reality that all has been lost.

We've all had such stumps littered through our lives, haven't we? Relationships that could not grow; downsizing/redundancy at work; neighbors who built high fences around us; promises that were broken before the words had a chance to be fully heard. We know the sense of loss, of despair, of hopelessness such stumps signify in our lives.

But as we discover over and over again, God cannot remain angry for too long. For in the midst of unbearable despair comes the odd word that God (once again!) is going to do something new.

For from this stump will come that first fragile, green shoot. Yes, it will bend in the winds of the world, but it will not break. Yes, it will struggle against all the terrors of our times, but it will succeed to produce: first one leaf, then another, and a third, a fourth, and so on. Yes, people will laugh and point, and claim that nothing can grow from that old stump. But eventually, in God's good time, it will be the shade where enemies can come out of the heat of anger and fear, and drink a glass of lemonade and begin to talk to one another.

This is how our God always operates. Taking the last and making them first, taking the least and making them the most valuable, taking the lost and carrying them in the divine Heart, taking the little and making them great in the kingdom.

God takes the stump of failure and fear in Judah and creates a new people.

God takes the stump of the cross and bursts forth with new life on Easter morning.

And God will take whatever stump is in your life and will bring forth that shoot of hope, of newness, of grace, of joy.


Dissuade us from trying to root out those stumps in our lives, Gardener of Creation, so that you can produce Advent hope, Christmas joy, Easter life, and Pentecostal passion in our hearts. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 2nd Monday-B

Read Isaiah 10:1-4

I have no doubt that God is talking to the politicians here. All those folks who always manage to find the funds for their pet projects, and are not embarassed one bit when they have to cut funding for housing for the homeless, feeding programs for the hungry, medical care for children.

And I am convinced that those faceless bureaucrats who sit in windowless, airless, graceless offices are the ones being condemned here. You know, the people who shuffle folks around as so many pieces of paper; the ones who are trained to deny (routinely) 80% of the insurance claims they process; the folks who spend all day not noticing that their decisions affect real human beings.

Of course, God is singling out the church officials who travel in comfort and eat in fine restaurants; who believe the church is best served by establishing national offices in expensive complexes; who step over the homeless as they go from their hotels to the local conference center for another round of discussions about compassion and hope.

After all, God certainly can't be talking about me, right?


I am right, aren't I, Master of the Universe?
You aren't talking about (or to) me (I hope and pray). Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 2nd Sunday-B

Read Isaiah 9:2-7

Other than Luke 2:1-14, this may be the most familiar of all the Advent/Christmas passages used by the church. Normally read on ChristmasEve/Day, this beloved poetry helps us to celebrate the birth of the One we call the Christ Child.

And then, like the ornaments on the tree, we put the passage back into its box and store it up in the attic, or down in the basement, to wait in the darkness until it is needed next Advent and Christmas.

But like the Beatitudes, Psalm 23, 1 Corinthians13, and others, isn't this one of those passages that we should read every week in church, if not every day in our private devotions?

After all, is Christmas Eve the only time we find ourselves stumbling in the darkness of our culture, groping our way as we try to find the Light switch?

Is Advent the only season when we hear the boots trampling on the oppressed, when the burdens of our lives stoop our shoulders, when we yearn for that peace which will never end?

Is Christmas Day the only time we need counsel from God; the only day we think justice should be upheld in our society; the only moment we can remember why it is God came to us in that tiny Babe?

Maybe, like the new covenant another prophet speaks about, we need to engrave these words upon our hearts, so they are not just a once-a-year reminder of what God has done for us, and continues to do, in the Child who has been born for us.


Holy God, may your passion continue to be multiplied in our lives, not just one day a year, but on all the ones which follow. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: First Saturday - B

Read Isaiah 8:16-22

when the crowd is rushing
to get to the malls;

when the television
drowns with ads;

when the songs
on the radio come
with no silence in between:

i will wait.

when fear sings a lullaby
to my faith;

when worry nibbles at the edges
of my fear;

when doubt becomes a worn slipper
i ease my feet into:

i will hope.

i will wait,
i will hope,
i will . . .

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

The Prophet of Advent: First Friday - B

Read Isaiah 7:10-17

you come . . .
not when
we are ready,
but when our defenses are up,
so you can batter
our hardened hearts;

you come . . .
not when
we deserve it,
but when we are making
mud pies with sin;

you come . . .

not when
we are surrounded
with a host of friends,
but when we are trapped
in the dark soul's loneliness;

you come . . .

not when
we have made the way smooth for you,
but when we have fallen
into the potholes of our pride;

you come . . .

not because you need to,
but because you want to.

so come,

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: First Thursday of Advent - B

Read Isaiah 6:1-8

Moses is out raking the leaves in his backyard when the tree catches on fire, and he hears God's call to go speak to Pharoah and bring God's children to freedom. Jeremiah is in his room playing video games, when God interrupts to tell him it is time to get to work plucking up and pulling down, planting and building.

But Isaiah? Right out of the starting gate, he's uttering strong words, harsh words, words of terror, words of judgment, words of warning. Condemnation flows easily from his lips, songs of unfaithfulness fill the air, injustice is roundly denounced.

And now, he decides to take a breather and go to church. Certainly there, in the temple, amid the incense, the psalms, the prayers, the priest doing priestly things, Isaiah can find the solace, if not the silence, his soul needs.

But the winged servants of the Master of the Universe disturb his reverie singing of God's holiness. Smoke fills the temple, and the building quakes as if, once more, God is appearing at Mount Sinai. And Isaiah finds himself being called, and responds in the only way he can, "Here am I; send me!"

So God sends him, Not just to speak words, but to model a life; not just to talk about judgment, but to show what grace has done for him; not just to warn the people about the dangers of breaking God's covenant, but to demonstrate how to keep that covenant; not just to condemn a community, but to stand with them, for however long it takes, until God's reconciling love can restore them to wholeness.

Which is what God does in the Child of Bethelehem, isn't it?


Here we are, Lord God, send us. Send us to bring hope, to bring joy, to bring peace, to bring wholeness to all those who stand with their hearts and hands open. These are the gifts we have received from you, and would offer to them. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman