8 March 2021
200 Years of New Zealand Christmas
Ewen McQueen writes “It is said Waitangi is the cradle of the nation ………... However, if Waitangi was the political birthplace of our nation, its spiritual cradle was Christianity. The gospel message went on to have a major influence among Maori. It also played a critical role in the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi”
This year we celebrate 200 years of the coming of the gospel to New Zealand. On Christmas Day 1814 the Rev Samuel Marsden, invited by the Ngapuhi chief Ruatara,, came ashore at Rangihoua, across the bay from Waitangi, and preached from the gospel of Luke, [probably in Maori] I bring you glad tidings of great joy - Te Harinui.
Churches all over New Zealand are joining in many different ways to remember this anniversary of our country’s history and remind New Zealanders, and all those who live here, that the roots of the nation of today lie in its Christian heritage. In a year when the first world war and Gallipoli are so often claimed to be our formation as a nation I wonder if we should not challenge that and remember back to the foundation set in the peace which Christ brings, not war, and when bonds were formed which have withstood apathy and ignorance, fear , suspicion and human greed over the years.
But how did this first service happen in that steeply sided valley of Oihi Bay, covered in flowering pohutukawa, [Marsden called them NZ Christmas trees] where preparations had been made by the locals to welcome them?
During his time in Australia, the Rev Samuel Marsden befriended a number of Māori, including Ngāpuhi chief Ruatara. . Marsden had met Ruatara when they were on board the Ann heading for New South Wales in 1809. Ruatara was unwell and ill-treated and Marsden nursed him back to health and Ruatara and others stayed with Marsden at Paramatta. the friendship between Marsden and Ruatara led to that first mission station at Oihi,
[today known as 'Marsden Cross'].. After gaining the support of Ruatara, Hongi Hika of Kerikeri, Tara of Kororareka, and Pomare nui of Matauwhi Bay Marsden set out on the 19 November 1814 on the Active, in the charge of Captain Hansen, and sailed to the Bay of Islands. On board were CMS missionaries, Thomas and Jane Kendall, with their three sons, William [a carpenter] and Dinah Hall, with his wife and their son, and John [a shoemaker] and Hannah King their son, and Hansen’s family. Also on board was Hongi, Ruatara, and as a passenger, farmer J.L Nicholas. Note that, in February 1815, Hannah King (nee Hansen daughter of Capt Hansen) gave birth to Thomas Holloway King so she was very near giving birth to Thomas at that first Christmas service!
On Thursday, 22 December 1814, the Active arrived at the Bay of Islands and anchored at Oihi. J.L Nicholas wrote: “We landed at the opening of a narrow valley, ………….. On the top of the hill ……, was the built town of Rangihoua now the residence of Ruatara and lately that of Te Pahi”
Ruatara, had fenced in half an acre of land and erected a pulpit and reading desk in its centre with black cloth covering it, and upturned canoes for seats. At 10 am on Christmas day Marsden addressed the congregation. Ruatara explained the meaning of the sermon to his people. There were chiefs and people from Kerikeri and Kororareka in attendance and three hundred warriors danced a furious haka around Marsden at the close of the service.
The next morning, work began to build houses for the settlers. It wasn’t that pleasant at first. John King wrote about the new settlement to a friend in England: “We are in good health, but our hut is made with rushes by the Maoris’. It has no chimney and will keep neither rain nor wind out. We have no window in it. Mr Marsden gave orders to have it made. He says it is very comfortable indeed. This is a very wet day; it has been so for this three days”
Back in 1814, the local people welcomed the gospel and spread the word. So this Christmas and the coming year we remember how God wove the message of peace and good will into the fabric of our nation, changed peoples and challenged cultures.
We also are reminded that it is now us who have the task of being signs of God’s love in Christ and giving the good news of Jesus in many different ways so others might know the life that comes in Christ.
May God bless you and give you peace
Margaret Anne Low
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