by: Matt Levett
As we end our time together let’s take one last look at the Christmas Story through the eyes of someone we may not think instantly about but who is there throughout the story.
Mary. I wonder what that First Christmas was like for Mary? The mother of the son of God.
Her life was lived in normality punctuated by moments of utter miraculous world shattering wondrous significance. Most commentators put her as a teenage girl when she first was spoken to by an angel. When her cousin Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant an angel spoke to Mary and said “You too will be with child. Who will be called Jesus and He will be great and will be the Son of the Most High” born Mary was confused and unsure and scared but faithful. “May it be to me as you have spoken”
Nine months before the First Christmas Mary’s life was forever changed. A virgin yet now pregnant. Facing ridicule and judgment and accusation. Fearful that her betrothed Joseph may leave her. No external proof of the miraculous – just faith. Miraculous moment hidden in her heart.
And then for the next few months it goes quiet from heaven. As the birth date draws near – at a time when Mary just wants to stay still - the census is announced and Joseph and Mary make the long 70 mile 5 day journey to their home town – Bethlehem.
But the town is heaving, everyone is coming home for the census too and the Inns are full and the population is swelled maybe 3, 4 or 5 fold.
And as the first contractions started and they find themselves sharing a stable with animals behind an inn did Mary stop and wonder and think back to the earlier Angelic pronouncement – surely the Baby, the coming Saviour of the world can’t be born here like this?
A normal birth followed. It wasn’t sanitised. Jesus wasn’t born with a halo around his head. It was painful and dirty and there was blood and cries and tear of pain and of joy. And as she held him in her arms did she truly believe he was the coming Saviour? Or had she somehow got it wrong?
But then the door opened and in come the shepherds. Bearing a sacrificial lamb and they lay it at Jesus’ feet and for a few minutes the glory of heaven is opened up again – but then they leave and the door is shut and the miraculous moment is once more overtaken by normality. But Mary never fully forgot and is it any wonder that ‘she stored these moments up and pondered them in her heart’ (Luke 2:19)
And then life hits top gear and they flee the city to head home via Egypt avoiding the genocidal cull of Herod. But then slowly life slips back to normality and sleepless nights and nappies and work and the normal everyday parenthood and Jesus’ uniqueness must have seemed once more hidden.
Unlike our childhood nativity plays the wise men Kings didn’t arrive the next day. They didn’t arrive during the ‘Christmas week’. It would have taken them about 18 months or so to follow the star and travel from the East – from Persia to Bethlehem or Nazareth.
(Just that fact makes the some of the rest of the story a little clearer - that’s why Matthew records them as ‘coming to the house’ – they didn’t stay in the stable forever! And that’s why Herod had all the baby boys under 2 killed – he wanted to make sure he ‘got’ Jesus.)
But eventually The Wise Men Kings appear and come bearing gifts. And for a moment heaven opens its doors once again. They bring GOLD – a gift associated with Kings. With Crowns. A gift for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. They bring FRANKINCENCE. Granular dried sap burnt by the priests as an offering for Gods worship. Woody, fruity and ancient. Visual illustrations of prayers flowing up to God. And they brought MYRRH – a thick gummy resin used as an embalming substance for the dead. All very costly gifts. All symbolic. Prophet, Priest and King
Do you ever wonder what Mary did with those gifts? Did she keep them? They seem too special to just sell or discard. Who knows? The Bible doesn’t tell us but I wonder, just wonder...
When Jesus died and was placed in the tomb. Do you remember the women came and anointed him with spices and creams and oils? Was it the same actual myrrh? The same actual frankincense that the wise men offered some 33 years before? We don’t know but there is a certain poetic sense to it all.
The Wise Men brought symbolic gifts of the ministry Jesus would have. Prophet, Priest and King. The shepherds brought sacrificial lambs mirroring the death Jesus would go through for us.
And Mary stored it all in her heart.
As we move into 2019 may this be a year when the wonder of the story stays with us. When it doesn’t get packed away with the decorations ready to be brought out next Christmas. Because Jesus didn’t come into the world so that we could get bored with Him and feel we’re too old for the childish nativity story. He came to save us, and that’s a joy we should remember every Christmas, and every day.
by: Matt Levett
I wonder what that First Christmas looked like for the first visitors to Jesus - for the shepherds and Kings?!
The Bible tells us that the Shepherds were in the hills outside the city, looking after their flocks when an angel came and spoke to them “Do not be afraid. Today a Saviour is born. Christ the Lord. He will be found lying in a manger” And the shepherds came down from the hills. They hurried down. They ran to meet the Good news.
Shepherds were nobodies in the social structure of the ancient near East. They weren’t allowed to testify in the courts of law because their testimony was considered unreliable. Shepherds were deemed to be unreliable, crafty and dishonest. They had no formal education couldn’t read or write – thus they couldn’t read the scriptures. They were thought of as dirty, ignorant, lowest of the low.
The Shepherds who looked after the flocks on the hills. The flocks of sheep used as sacrifices every day. Sacrifices the priests used to try to atone for the sins of the people. A costly but largely ineffectual system. The Shepherds weren’t expecting Jesus that night. It was a shock but they heard the Good News and ran towards it, and it transformed their lives. They brought all they had with them – a lamb. A sacrificial lamb for the sacrificial lamb. A gift to bow down and worship.
And later came the wise men or kings. In marked total contrast to the shepherds. The opposite in the social hierarchy. These men were the top layer. The rich. The elite. The celebrities. And they were expectant. They’d been looking and waiting for someone like Jesus all their lives. And they travelled far with expensive gifts to bow down and worship.
Two more different people could not be imagined. Shepherd’s and Kings. But what brought them together were hearts ready to worship. To give up their lives into Jesus’ hand. Those first visitors to Jesus tell us something important and profound about who He is.
Jesus comes for all.
For the expectant and the unexpectant.
For rich and poor.
For the educated and uneducated.
For the needy and the unneedy.
For the powerful and the powerless.
For the celebrity and the unknown.
For those who have thought about Him often and for those who never have.
For you and for me.
And what he wants from us? Simply for us to come to Him. Ready to bow down and worship.
by: Matt Levett
I wonder what that First Christmas looked like for Boaz?! “Boaz?” I hear you cry. “He’s not in the Christmas story” Angels - ü. Shepherds – ü. Mary & Joseph – ü. But Boaz?! Who’s Boaz anyway?
Hold on … Every Christmas in every service across the land we read the Christmas story. And every time there is read a list of people. A genealogy. A family tree. It shows Jesus born of the line of King David. But stuck in the middle of that genealogy is a man called Boaz.
Kinsman – Redeemer.
I’ve got two brothers. One a twin (Ben) and my elder brother (Jon). Jon tells a story of when we were all much younger – picture the scene, 3 Levett boys all at primary school?! Jon apparently was backed into the corner of the playground by the 4 older bullies of the school and was basically being given a real beating. Jon says he managed to look up and caught my eye across the other side of the playground. He was hoping for a bit of brotherly help. Seemingly I looked at him then ran off in the other direction. Jon said he felt so alone at that moment. Alone, betrayed and abandoned.
Then he says he heard a shout, more a roar actually, and the older boys stopped their beating and turned round to see Matt, Ben and about 20 of their friends tearing across the playground – sticks held high, battle cries resounding! I hadn’t actually abandoned him I’d gone for help and this was war. Now, I don’t actually remember the reason I was doing it but I remember that feeling of charging across the playground to help my brother. It was glorious. It was a revolution. And I was only 8! We started a fight that is legendary in the annals of Chestnut Lane Primary School history. People still talk of the day that the dinner ladies ran inside the school rather than break up the pitched battle between the Levett boys and the school bullies. It still brings a tear to my eye as I tell the story some 30 years on. (Rumour has it that there is still a blood stain on the inside of the swimming pool gate post from that day but I’ve never been back to check)
I think it was the only day of my school life that I wasn’t apprehensive about going home to tell my mum I’d ripped the knees of my trousers (again!) I was proud. The blood and the bruises and the torn clothes were a badge of honour. Standing outside the head teacher’s office that day was a joy and a privilege. Nothing Mrs. Leahy could say or do to us would matter.
And in fact I think it was the only time that we weren’t told off by my mum and dad for fighting. She said well done for looking out for your brother. And although the bullies didn’t miraculously change overnight there was a renewed sense of fun on the playground.
Kinsmen – Redeemer
If you delve beneath the surface you can often see pictures, or shadows or vague foretellings of Jesus throughout the whole of the OT. Commentators call this a ‘Christ type’. And many of our favourite OT characters are Christ types to their peers. Characters which hint at a fulfilment, a Messiah to come.
In the Biblical book of Ruth, Ruth characterizes Boaz as a “near kinsman.” The Hebrew term is goel, and it signifies a relative with “the right to redeem” Boaz thus was a “kinsman-redeemer.” But actually there was a closer male relative to Ruth than Boaz - He should have been kinsman-redeemer for Ruth. We don’t know his name but it is clear by chapter 4:1 that he had abdicated his responsibilities. Why? Probably because it was that if he later had a son by Ruth and that son was his only surviving heir then all his land and property would transfer to Elimilech’s family. Whatever the reason he ducked out of his responsibility. Leaving Boaz to become kinsman and redeemer. Being a kinsman-Redeemer for Boaz involved sacrifice and misunderstanding from his contemporaries.
Now just because I stuck up for my brother, in no way am I announcing myself to be a kinsman-redeemer … but I’d like to be. I’ve got a long way to go before I’m a Christ type … but one day I’d like to be.
The Apostle Paul once said ..” Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ“ (1 Cor 11:1) and “Join with others as they follow my example brothers..” (Phil 3:17) that’s incredible.
It sounds almost arrogant. But that is a mark of a man who knows he’s living as Christ intends. I’d love to be able to say that sort of statement with the confidence that people could.
Kinsman literally means family member. Country man. ‘Of my kin’
Redeemer is a word from the slave markets of ancient Israel. To redeem was to buy a slave and then grant them freedom.
Kinsman – Redeemer is of course shown to us completely in Jesus. Our family member / brother who steps up and takes responsibility and buys us back and grants us freedom from sin.
But Kinsman – Redeemer is also shadowed in a small way by people such as Boaz. So could you be a kinsman redeemer to those around you? A ‘Christ type’ for those who may never come to the Church. Who may never pick up a Bible, who may never hear a sermon or who may never listen to a worship song? Who may not know the true meaning of Christmas?
by Matt Levett
I wonder what that First Christmas looked like for the Chief Priests? The Holy people. The religious ones. The ones expecting Him. The ‘Church Going Christians’?
Well the truth is that the people looking the hardest for Christmas were the ones who missed the mark most severely.
Back 2000 years the Temple in Jerusalem was the busiest religious place in the world. The sacrifices never stopped; the offerings never ceased; and countless priests and singers and rule-makers continued the work of worship with every shift change. They argued over the fine points of the Law, wrestling with a complex set of 613 injunctions that had come from a far simpler list of Ten Commandments originally handed out on Mt. Sinai. They read and memorized the law, they quoted the prophets, and most of all, they waited and they looked out for the coming of the Messiah.
The Messiah – the man who would come and liberate them from the oppression of the Romans and institute a new kingdom on earth. The Messiah – the man who came from the Kingly line of David. The Messiah – the anointed one who would bring together the tribes of Israel. The Messiah – the man who would live out the offices of Prophet, Priest & King.
But when the Messiah arrived, born barely five miles from The Temple in Jerusalem, just on the outskirts of Bethlehem, not a single religious expert made it to the manger. They missed Him.
The baby lived a week, and there were no religious visitors. And then, on the eighth day, Mary and Joseph brought the baby to the Temple! They actually brought Christmas inside the very place where it should have been most likely, and most logical for someone to have recognized the long-awaited Messiah. But Mary, Joseph, and the baby managed to come into the Temple, complete the ceremony of circumcision, and slip away almost unnoticed, passing as quietly into the background as the original meaning of Christmas slips away from our over-stressed Christmas culture today.
You can be so close to it and still miss out.
If we could have seen the routine at the Temple, if we could have seen the all-too-familiar rush and hurry and exhaustion of all those so immersed in religion, we'd have seen a frightening truth. That truth is that the religious leaders & the most ardent followers, the ones who were so close to Bethlehem, missed Christmas because they were too busy.
And they stayed busy for the next 33 years, missing the teaching, the miracles, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension. They were so busy doing the work of God, that they missed God's greatest work in history! They had the scripture, they knew the prophecy, they sang the songs, and they kept the holidays. But somehow, they completely missed what all of the scripture, songs, prophecy and holidays had been promising.
Finding God in our Christmas time will not be easy; no easier than finding Him the first time. If most of the religious experts missed the very first Christmas, it wouldn't be surprising to find a lot of modern-day religious people missing the big event, too.
And we shouldn’t be surprised if you and I miss it too unless we’re really careful…
by: Matt Levett
As we start this series of Christmas blogs together I thought I’d introduce myself. A young person once wrote this about me and it probably sums me up better than I could do so myself….
“Matt is an avid admirer of all things comic book - especially Wonder Woman. He loves films; loves good food; loves surfing (but is really quite bad at it!) and loves open water ice swimming. He plays Risk – a lot, and he has a mysterious interest in cryptozoology and actually attends the Eurovision Song contest every year?! In his spare time he helps run a charity for street kids in Latin America and gets out there whenever he can. Oh yeah … and the most important bit. He has been involved in Church ministry all his life. He really believes that the local Church really is the hope for the world. He loves teaching theology to the ‘non-religious’. He’s really passionate about young people & mission and thinks that living for Jesus is not just a good thing but the best thing. No, really he does ….”
So that’s me! I don’t speak Croatian – so the lovely Tamara has the unenviable job of translating my English rambling into something that makes sense to you. But I’ve been travelling from the UK to Croatia to help with a Church partnership for years now and your beautiful country is in my blood.
Now, a confession as we start these Blogs together…. I’m a man who gets distracted when I’m writing. In fact I get distracted a lot. I wonder if my life is just one big distraction actually, but then again it’s what we do in our ‘distraction’ moments that tells us most about who we are, doesn’t it? And maybe we can learn something from looking at life sideways or from an unusual distracted perspective. Which leads us to Christmas Unwrapped…
We’ve lived it every year since we were little. When the excitement of presents and food and Father Christmas kept us awake all through the later nights of December. And those of us of faith feel the joy of the deeper significance of the celebration of the birth of Jesus. And as we attend services and sing Christmas songs we remember the story of Mary and Joseph and their travels on a donkey to Bethlehem once again.
But maybe there are still some new things we can learn. So in this month – the month leading up to Christmas - we’re going to take a look at that Christmas Story again but through the eyes of some different people. People profoundly affected by the birth but people we don’t often hear from. There are so many people we could mention in our blogs together.
Herod who sought to kill every boy child thinking he was ruler and in charge – no God King was going to stop him doing what he wanted when he wanted it.
How many of us sometimes think like that ?
Elizabeth whose pregnancy was overshowed by her cousins and who might have felt just a little bit of envy or jealousy that she wasn’t centre of attention?
How many of us occasionally feel that?
Or the Inn keeper who said “There is no room” and the child born who came to throw open the doors of heaven and say “There is always room”
How many of us need to hear that?
It’s all there in the Christmas Story. So as we start this journey can I encourage you to do something? Take some time. Grab yourself a drink. Sit in your favourite chair. Dim the lights, open up the Bible and re-read that Christmas story. Read it and ask that God speaks to you afresh this Christmas time. Read it and start to wonder…
As the early morning sunlight filters in through the open window, my team and I gather in the front room of our host family’s home. Croatian, English, German, and Lithuanian prayers mingle together as we set our day of service before the Lord. Later in the day, together we will serve and love a diverse group of kids at our camp. This is a picture of what it means to be a member of a multicultural team.
I had the gift of serving on a variety of multicultural teams this summer while working as a Ministry Mentor through Leadership Lab International. For two weeks, I was part of the Camp on Wheels team that led day camps in churches in Rijeka and Zadar, Croatia. Later in the summer, I also served at the DPB Training Center as the lead English teacher for both the International and English Camps. Throughout these experiences, the Lord revealed many truths to me about what it means to serve with others from different cultural backgrounds.
Love is a universal language. On my first day of Camp on Wheels in Rijeka, I found myself surrounded by a sea of children who only spoke Croatian. Knowing only a small number of words in Croatian myself, I felt helpless -- how would I ever connect with these kids? But the minute we began to play games and sing and dance to songs, all those differences disappeared. We all smile, laugh, and high five in the same language. Loving people like Jesus did doesn’t require being fluent in another language -- it requires that we step out of our comfort zone and interact with people who don’t look and sound like us.
We are not that different from one another. As I learned the stories of students, staff, and children throughout the summer, I found that despite cultural differences we all have similar dreams and wishes, pains and longings. It is when we reach out to one another and share our authentic selves that we find we are not that different. Being vulnerable with one another is a beautiful way to build community, and the Croatians taught me that one of the best ways to do this is over a delicious meal!
Jesus is the bridge. One of my favorite parts of serving in Croatia this summer was getting to meet people from all over the world. I couldn’t believe how quickly I was able to build relationships with the Leadership Lab students, DPB staff, and local church volunteers. But then I realized why we were able to bond so fast -- Jesus! When we have Jesus in common with one another, there is a depth to that connection that cannot be shaken even in the midst of cultural differences.
MK Camp changed my life in so many areas. MK Camp first made me realize the beauty of nature and Gods creation. I took simple things for granted, like the changing colours of the trees. My eyes were opened to the wonders and beautiful things that Gods wants to show off to us. Another area of my life that changed that week was friendship. I learned that true friends stick with you all the time. MK Camp was a great place to make friends who know what it's like to be an MK. Some of the friends I had at camp I still talk to. MK Camp was generally just a place to relax, be your true self, and feel the full embrace of God. Now I have moved to Canada and have been here for just over a year. I have recently joined a rugby team and a baseball team. I have made great friends through sports. It's also nice to go to an English speaking church. Being able to worship in my own language is a blessing. Thank you MK Camp staff for making me have a wonderful and memorable week. I wouldn't change a thing!!
As I reflect on my time overseas, some of the fondest memories that I have come from MK camp. I lived in Bulgaria for a total of 4 years, from 2006 to 2010, and was so blessed to have had the opportunity to experience camp, which was something a lot of missionary kids lost when leaving the states.
I still vividly remember the campground…a large house where the girls slept…several tents where the boys slept, one of which was a massive tent I always tried to claim a spot in (and indulge in long nights of playing RISK with the other boys)…a sand volleyball court where so many crazy games were played…I remember the shed where all the archery gear was kept, I remember mountain biking, rock climbing (Genesis and Exodus were their names I think?), but most of all I remember how beautiful of a place it was.
Every night a group of us would go out to stargaze and be in awe of stars so bright and big...of space so eternal and us so small and insignificant. To this day I haven’t experienced beauty so real, so serene, and so powerful. This was where I began to truly understand and know God for myself.
There was a power and excitement that could be felt the moment you arrived…you knew this place was special. It was a place we could come and feel normal again. A place where we could meet more kids similar to us that knew what life was like in another country. It is crazy to think this was over 6 years ago for me.
When people look back on their lives, there are always certain life events or changes that are pivotal in shaping and molding who we become as people. For me, one of those big life events was moving to Europe. MK camp helped ensure that the shaping and molding that occurred in me during my time there was one that was centered around Christ and His love, and His mercy, and His sacrifice, and the way that He called us to live as children of light and to serve Him in all that we do.
6 years later, I have since graduated from Taylor University in Upland, IN where I studied Exercise Science and played collegiate football, and am currently obtaining my Doctorate of Physical Therapy at Missouri State University in Springfield, MO.
I hope to someday use my gifts in physical therapy throughout the mission field, serving and being used by Him and continuing to live a life with values and beliefs that were instilled in me during my time at MK camp.
I loved MK camp so much. It was such a cool experience to be surrounded by so many MKs from many different countries and be able to worship God with them and learn more about who he is. I will never forget all of the amazing people I met there, and all of the fun and awesome memories that were made. MK camp had a very big impact on my life. I know that I will remember all the things I learned and experienced there.
At MK camp I learned about and grew a lot in my faith and about trusting God. The theme of that week really, really helped me to grow in my journey of faith. To today, I have been able to apply that to my life when I need to trust God in every situation. This has helped me so much the past couple months, and I know it will continue to help me in the future. Everything from the deep talks to the fun games and sports has left a part of me full of unforgettable memories and growth in understanding the amazing God that I love.
My first MK Camp came at a difficult time in my life. A couple years before my family had moved to a new area of the country, and the ministry was very busy and challenging. I had left school and friends behind and started an on-line high school program. Loneliness as well as spiritual struggle were a painful reality for me.
So, I viewed MK Camp as a "get-away" with the potential to be fun. I didn't know that it would be a great source of encouragement to me -- so much so that now twelve years later, life's current struggles seem less overwhelming as I reflect on the encouragement I received from my experiences and from the leaders at camp.
The first encouragement I received was the somber lesson from the life of King David, about how important it is to study God's Word. If a man like David, a man after God's own heart, could stray so deeply into sin because of his lack of focus on God, then it was important for me to unfalteringly read and obey God's Word. The theme of camp that year was "One step closer," and I desired to trust God and to know Him more.
The second encouragement was when I approached and talked at length with an older and more experienced MK. She was a missionary and a mother of MKs, and she listened to me. I remember the stars were bright the night we sat outside and talked, and I was able to open up about some of the deepest feelings in my heart. We prayed together, and my loneliness started to seem much less overwhelming, especially in comparison to the life I was being called to live.
Finally, on the last day of camp as we were packing up to leave, the director, Uncle Steve, said to me: "Jacqueline, I've been watching you this week, And I think you have potential of being a leader. So, if you ever want to come back here, just let me know." I think those words are pretty accurate, because I wrote them down in my journal after camp -- and even more, they left a permanent imprint on my mind and heart. I really needed to be affirmed that I was a part of God's plan and that He thought I was worth training for His service. I later had the privilege of serving at MK Camp for two consecutive summers, and that time also molded and guided me in other life decisions.
I wish I could say that life instantly became easier right after that first year at camp, because it didn't. In fact, on the drive home from camp that year, I was informed of some painful events that had taken place in our ministry at home which would greatly alter our lives. My circumstances had not become easier, more difficult in fact, but I had a reassurance in my heart of God's faithfulness and love for me. You see, God used MK camp at a critical period in my life to show me that He was using my circumstances to bring about His redemption work, even when I did not always understand the pain. He used MK Camp to strengthen my relationship with Him.
Thank you, Lord, for MK Camp.