Where you want to be
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; 19 and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; 21 she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emman′u-el”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.
Where you want to be
Sermon given on 22 December 2019 by The Rev. Jon Roberts
Calvary Episcopal Church, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida
Angel appears to Joseph in a dream by Gaetano Gandolfi, 1790
If there is a place that gives you no grace nor peace,
A place where you don’t want to be.
Do not be so quick to judge what is really there;
The gift that you were meant to see.
There are certain places where you don’t want to be and there may be certain people who you don’t want to see.
Once upon a time a Bible group study leader says to his group, “What would you do if you knew you only had four weeks left before the great Judgment Day?” A gentleman says, “I would go out into my community and minister the Gospel to those that have not yet accepted the Lord into their lives.” “Very good!” says the group leader. One lady speaks up and says enthusiastically, “I would dedicate all of my remaining time to serving God, my family, my church, and my fellow man with a greater conviction.” “That's wonderful!” the group leader comments. One gentleman in the back finally speaks up loudly and says, “I would go to my mother-in-law’s house for the four weeks.” The group leader asks, “Why your mother-in-law’s home?” “Because that will make it the longest four weeks of my life!”
I wonder what Joseph’s mother-in-law would have thought if she knew he was going to privately divorce her daughter, his wife, young Mary? Not only would he be denied grace and peace, perhaps he would not even be afforded four weeks either! No offense to mother-in-laws, but the relationship of two people is always balanced by their opposition and ability to complement.
This relationship is seen between the two Evangelists. Both Matthew and Luke recount their story of what led up to the Nativity, with emphasis on different characters. The Matthean narrative of the birth story of Christ is quite different than the one from the Lucan version. Instead of the angel of the Lord announcing to Mary she will give birth to a son, it is Joseph who is visited, in a dream no less, to receive this announcement. The emphasis in Matthew is also on the Wise Men and Herod whereas Luke puts more light on the Shepherds and the innkeeper. Put together, one may argue for Joseph, the other for Mary; one may argue for the importance of the wise men and the other for the shepherds, but taken together they enhance the story, rather than refute it. One wonders if, when telling their side, they found a place of grace and peace. St. Paul writes to the followers in Rome and gives them this exhortation at the end, to receive grace and peace in the name of the Lord. Gentiles and Jews must learn to live with one another, but perhaps in their company is not the place they wanted to be. What a gift, however as they learned to live with one another by acceptance of Christ in their hearts.
This brings us to the proclamation of “Emmanuel,” the one who comes and restores the grace and peace of God within us. Our entire lives will be a pursuit of understanding who we are, the place we are in and how we share it with the people who are with us. For God to be with us, we must be with each other. Where do you want to be; isolated from those who are opposite; distant from those who are different? Joseph perhaps wanted to quietly distance himself from his betrothed when he heard she was pregnant, not with his child. This would have prevented shame and pain. It was out of fear that he was about to send Mary away, but God sent His angel to restore Joseph, in his dream, grace and peace. Sometimes we think the best way to handle things is to run away from them; to push them aside and hope they go away. It is borrowed time. Don’t judge too quickly what is right there, an opportunity to relate to God, through the other, in a most special way. Aged Joseph and young Mary are brought together. Jew and Gentile, the same.
Have you ever wondered what it was like in that place called heaven, the place we want to be, when three figures discussed where they want to be for all eternity? One raised their hand to say they would rule all creation from the cosmos and teach His commandments; the other would go forth and lay witness to healing those who suffer and feed those who are poor; but the last one said, “I want to go live with the humans we created. They will put me in a trough where donkeys and cows eat, a place that is dirty. They will put me to the task of hard labor, building things with my hands. They will eventually mock, beat and kill me. That will be the longest 30-some years of my life.” Why would Jesus go to a place where certain people did not want to see him?
God, the three-in-one, decided that living with us was not something to judge so quickly because God knew we had so much to offer. We have so such potential to change if we receive his grace and capacity to love if we receive his peace. Jesus saw what was really there; the gift He wanted to see; He wanted to spend all eternity with those filled with receiving his grace and peace.
The place He really wanted to be was with those whom he loved; right here, with you and me.
 The Rev. Jon Roberts
 Romans 1:1-7
 Matthew 1:18-25
Purify a Mansion within us
Sermon given on 16 December 2016 by The Rev. Jon Roberts
Calvary Episcopal Church, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida
Isaiah’s prophecy to King Ahaz, an Italian Book of Hours, 1546
Purify our consciences O Lord and prepare a mansion within us.
(Pointing to the creche/manger) How do you like this mansion? This is it. We are getting it ready. You can see how elaborate and beautiful it is. Everyone is going to want to live in this. All we need is a bed, some drapes, a door, maybe.
In the collect for today’s service we are asking a lot of the Savior so that we can have a mansion prepared within us. We are asking for our consciences to be purified. Reading scripture it is hard to get out of our head the vesicles and responses adapted and sung in Evensong. You hear, “Show us your mercy O Lord; And grant us your salvation. Endue thy ministers with righteousness; Let thy people sing with joy.” We have this sense of preparation in this journey of Advent so that we will have a mansion prepared.
You know, building is hard work. You have to envision it. You have to find the resources to afford it. You have to get the plans and permits. You have to gather all the skilled people. This great construction takes a lot of work, it can be a big headache, wondering if you will ever see the end results; but when you do see the finished project, there is joy. That’s Christmas. We will look around saying it took a lot of work, but God’s hands were always on the plans and it was worth it. It is an effort to purify the conscious and prepare the beautiful mansion.
This relates to a story from the Old Testament during a time when the effort of the people had lost its purpose and the mansion was no longer purified. It was in the days of Isaiah, the prophet who gave instruction during the reign of King Ahaz. The relationship of prophet and king centered around the mansion found in Jerusalem. The historical practice of the people of Israel was monotheistic, purifying their hearts only for Yahweh, and they did so in the Temple that David and his son Solomon had built. But the times had changed and the city began to lose its luster. The trumpets still blew. The doors still opened and shut, but it was not the same. The people moved away from this belief and they would lose their sight on the way of salvation.
In Isaiah’s days, King Ahaz was married and wanted to have a successor but he and his wife were unable to conceive. This troubled him. Instead of reaching out in prayer to God, he turned to an unholy alliance with outsiders. The Assyrians were to the north and were imposing more power and influence on Jerusalem, which sat perfectly on the main trade route. Before long the people of Israel were paying taxes to this aggression. It is a slippery slope evidence of giving in a little, to lose a lot. The gods of the sun, moon and animals was imported and before long, the people of Israel lost its way. The nation as a whole lost its purpose. It lost its purity. Maybe in some way this is related to the barrenness of King Ahaz not able to bear a child. Isaiah entered and said, if we want to regain our purpose and get back on track, we need to proclaim that God is the one God of all. Ahaz was not in agreement, and Isaiah replied, “from a virgin a child will be born, and his name will be Immanuel (God is with us).” During the season preparing for Christmas we earnestly and whole heartedly believe that Jesus the Christ is Emmanuel, the one who brings God to us. There is a lot of time between Isaiah and Ahaz and our present day and we wonder if we are running the same course and whether we can ever see a reversal, an ability to purify a corrupted world. Is it possible that God can reverse the course of our rejecting him, such as what Ahaz did?
The story continues. Lo and behold, something miraculous occurred. Finally, a son was finally conceived by Ahaz and he was named Hezekiah. He was the 14th king of Judah. He served as Co-Regent for ten years under his father. When his father died he took power. Do you know what his first official action was? He swept everything clean. He said that everyone in Jerusalem was going to return to worship only Yahweh. It would be a means of purifying the people. This would also have consequences with the Assyrians. He knew they would come in and remove him from office because they had power and influence over the people when they controlled their religious practice. Hezekiah planned for this. He started the “Aquaduct Project.” Over ten years that was a mile long that travelled underground to the pool of Siloam outside the walls of Jerusalem. Historians say that the Assyrian army was totaled about a quarter of a million troops. They surrounded the walls of Jerusalem. They intended to starve them out and dry them out. No food and no water would come. There would be no chance of salvation. Over 4-6 weeks no one was coming out. No one was dying. How was this possible. God provided a way. He gave them something to drink from underneath the walls. A plague moved into the valley and infected the Assyrians, to the point where half of them died.
God works in miraculous ways. He prepares a way. We must, however remain loyal to what got us to where we are today. We must proclaim that God is the only God. “Give us your mercy O Lord, and endue thy ministers with righteousness.” This is the way to prepare the mansion.
Be that place of grandeur where Jesus lives within you. Be that place of warmth and vitality. Set to the task of preparation. What can you do between now and that moment of birth? How do you like this mansion, this basic place where there is a tunnel that comes up through the manger and gives us food and water to drink? Perhaps we all need to start with only one thing and that is to ask God, “To purify our Conscious; “Purify a Mansion within us.”
 Isaiah 7:10-16; Matthew 1:18-25
 The Rev. Jon Roberts, adapted from collect of Advent IV.
The Mansion of our Heart
Sermon given on 22 December 2013 by The Rev. Jon Roberts
Calvary Episcopal Church, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida
Eastern Orthodox icon depicting Christ enthroned in heaven, surrounded by the ranks of angels and saints. At the bottom is Paradise with the Bosom of Abraham (left), and the Good Thief (right).
c.1700 Greece, Anonymous
Every year we celebrate the holy season of Advent. Every year we pray those beautiful prayers of longing and waiting, and sing those lovely songs of hope and promise.  Songs, heard, coming from the Mansion of our Heart. [2}
We anticipate a glimpse of the beatific vision, of what heaven must have been like when God came down to Bethlehem. We encountered this reason to rejoice last Sunday, when the Advent story was about us. We rejoiced because we discovered how God anticipates us to love him, as he loves us. Is this what God finds in us today? Does he visit us by His Holy Spirit to find love? And if so, what does he find? Perhaps it is as the Collect this morning suggests; that we are to purify our consciences to prepare ourselves as a mansion for Him to visit.
Have you ever wondered if your heart, that place for Him to dwell in, is prepared like a mansion or a barn? Sometimes we wonder if we are prepared. We wonder if we are like those who God visited in the bible. Wondering, also, if there is a place prepared for us in heaven.
After a long illness, a woman died and arrived at the Gates of Heaven. While she was waiting for Saint Peter to greet her, she peeked through the Gates. She saw a beautiful banquet table. Sitting all around were her parents and all the other people she had loved and who had died before her. They saw her and began calling greetings to her -- "Hello" "How are you! We've been waiting for you!" "Good to see you." When Saint Peter came by, the woman said to him, "This is such a wonderful place! How do I get in?" "You have to spell a word," he told her. "Which word?" the woman asked. "Love." The woman correctly spelled "Love" and Saint Peter welcomed her into Heaven.
About six months later, Saint Peter came to the woman and asked her to watch the Gates of Heaven for him that day. While the woman was guarding the Gates of Heaven, her husband arrived. "I'm surprised to see you," the woman said. "How have you been?" "Oh, I've been doing pretty well since you died," he replied. "I married the beautiful young nurse who took care of you while you were ill. And then I won the lottery. I sold the little house you and I lived in and bought a big mansion. And my wife and I traveled all around the world. We were on vacation and I went water skiing today. I fell, the ski hit my head, and here I am. How do I get in?" “Simple,” the woman told him. "All you have to do is spell a word." "Which word," her husband asked.
Joseph could have abandoned young Mary and gone on to wed another. Dazed and confused, it could have felt like a blow to the head but in his dream, he was foretold not only the name to be given to the child she carried, Jesus, but that this boy would grow to be the savior of the world. The pronouncement by the angel for Jesus, his official title was “Emmanuel” meaning, “God is with us.” When God’s messenger, Gabriel, came down to visit the Blessed Virgin Mary, he did not test her. He did not question the love in her heart, for it was known beforehand. She had already found favor in God’s sight. but she wondered herself. The angel gave her assurances. He told her that she was blessed among women and blessed would be the fruit of her womb.
If you doubt, thinking you haven’t enough love in your heart today, fear not, for Love came down in Bethlehem. Not in the royal bed of a mansion but rather in the noble manger of a barn. He transcends our barns into mansions as we embrace the mystery and seek the beatific vision of that heavenly kingdom where we learn that the word “Love” is far greater than we ever imagined.
Let us pray a beautiful prayer, that we purify our consciences on this day, so that God may visit us; that His Son may join us in that blessed song, coming from the mansion of our hearts.
 Karl Rahner, c.1970
 The Rev. Jon Roberts
 Matthew 1:18-25
What's in your Mansion?
Sermon given on 19 December 2010 by The Rev. Jon Roberts
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Venice, Florida
16th C. Icon of Mary holding the Christ child, Emmanuel. St. Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai
Purify our conscience. Conscience. With-Science. With-Knowledge. Purify our knowledge.
Purify our knowing by your daily visitation, that your Son, Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for him.
What's in your mansion? No, this is not an endorsement for Capital One Bank, but, it does relate by suggesting all things in which we bank our faith, are not the same. In our collect today, we are called to clean up the imperfections of our knowing. Specifically, what we know about the one who is called Immanuel. "God is with us."
Who is this Immanuel, "God is with us," anyway? What kind of mansion is prepared for God to live?
In the beginning of this month, a good number of people from this church went up to have a retreat at the Dayspring Conference Center in Ellenton, Florida and while there, we explored the words of St. Teresa of Avila and the topic of a soul having many mansions. "The soul has many mansions", she said. "And there is a light that shines forth from the middle," which is the light of Christ. Sometimes it cannot be seen because we are very far away, by not knowing ourselves and the source, which we belong.
We are to prepare the way by cleaning up our consciences. Two passages of scripture come to life, revealing God is with us. They are both beautiful stories of God's unfailing love. The first one is in Isaiah, chapter seven and the second is in the first chapter of Matthew. There is a long tunnel allowing pure water to pass through our faith cleaning up our mansion, purifying our knowledge of who we are and who God is.
A long time ago there was a father whose faith was muddied. He had come to believe everyone worshipped the same God. Those who wanted a good crop worshiped the God of rain. Those who wanted good fishing worshiped the God of the sea. Those who wanted children worshiped the God of fertility. Those who wanted to be healed worshiped this piece of wood that had a picture of a snake on it. They all wanted what they thought was salvation; that thing which their faith was built on and what they felt would save them. This is what they knew. This man, this father was really mixed, and most troubling, he was a king. He was no ordinary king. He was the thirteenth in succession from mighty King David. The same one whose star you see near one who is Hebrew. To them, David means everything. From his lineage, will come the Messiah, the prince of peace and Lord of Lords, and his name will be Emmanuel. This king in the story was king Ahaz. He not only saw idol worship in the house that David built, but worse, he permitted it. Threats of the Assyrians coming down from the north, tainting the Northern Kingdom of Israel and spreading into the Southern Kingdom of Judah were entering into Jerusalem, this great fortress on the hill. What would they find if they overtook it? They would find a king and a people who had drifted away from their original faith in God. They no longer searched God for a sign. They became complacent and signed on to every travelling merchant who sold their idols in the marketplace. It was a free city. Everyone had the right to sell what they want. It was about learning other customs and being open to new ideas. Once a mighty kingdom, they were now threatened by the Assyrians to the north and the Egyptians to the south and the Babylonians to the east. They were not simply surrounded; they were infiltrated.
Ahaz had a man of God by his side; someone who was a bit of a historian; who remembered the way it used to be. His name was Isaiah. Isaiah came to Ahaz repeatedly and telling him that he needed to purify his understanding of God. It was time to return to the custom of their forefather David. It was time to return to the days in which the people of Israel lived on curds and honey, not the lavish foods that made them spiritually obese. Because Ahaz subscribed to idol worship and polytheism his conscience no longer could choose evil from good. So who would? Isaiah was the messenger of the answer given by God. He told Ahaz that a young woman shall bear a son and his name will be Immanuel - "God with us."
Many times, Christians have rested their faith on this passage to believe the son in which the prophet speaks is Jesus. In some respect this is true, but here is something you may not know. Ahaz and his wife had tried for so long to have a child. They made sacrifices to many Gods asking for favor and eventually they tired of doing the rituals. When Isaiah told him the prophecy, little did he believe that the young woman, bearing this son, would be his own flesh and blood. His son was named Hezekiah. Hezekiah was the fourteenth king in the line of King David. Hezekiah served with dad for about ten years as a co-regent or coadjutor before taking charge by himself. It was Hezekiah who would be remembered as one of the great kings because he made a radical religious reform. He banned all other religions practiced not only in Jerusalem but also in all of Judah. Temples to foreign Gods were destroyed and were replaced by the name of Yahweh. He stopped paying the tax to the Assyrians and as a result they besieged the great city.
If you ever go to Jerusalem, you will find a great city on a hill. Its walls are steep and well-fortified. The weak spot is this. If they ever shut their gates when under attack, how would they be able to get fresh water? They normally drew from the spring on the west side that flowed into the pool of Siloam but this was an easy target. Hezekiah, years before, knew this and so he had his people build a secret underground tunnel, about a third of a mile long, about three feet wide, cut straight through solid rock. It would be difficult for an adversary to see where the water was diverted by this tunnel. By what many have called a miracle from God, the army of a half million Assyrians, who surrounded the city, were decimated by a plague, wiping out nearly half of them. They died because they had no good source of water. After this victory, and for a time being, Jerusalem had a purified conscience. They were restored to the ancient covenant and made whole again. Kings are so important for a county, as are presidents. They can lead the people simply in what they believe. Unfortunately, Hezekiah's son, next in line, reverted back to idols. The reading in Isaiah is the entrance into the tunnel.
Like Jerusalem and its people, we defend our mansion up on a hill, and when under siege we need pure water, not muddied to purify our conscious and to help us live. Choose today who you worship. Use the knowledge you have in order to shine light in a world that prefers diversity in idols rather than the unity found only through Christ, Immanuel who is God with us. Be that prophet of conscience and ask those around you, not only, “What’s in your mansion?” but also, “Who is in your mansion?”
 Collect for Advent IV, Year A, 1979 BCP.
 St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, Dover: NY, 2008; pp.15,20.
 Isaiah 7:10-17; Matthew 1:18-21