8 March 2021
Matthew’s Christmas story is about two kings of the Jews, and a group of wise ones who follow a star, seeking a king. Matthew tells us about this new king in language which is familiar to his readers who know their old stories well. A baby at risk, a threatened King Herod, a massacre of children a fleeing to Egypts all are in the Moses story and by telling it they are saying this child, baby Jesus, is the new liberator, the new saviour promised by God.
There is a new factor though
There are strangers, outsiders, who see what those who thought they were the centre of the story miss. In Matthew the strangers, bring their highly symbolic gifts of Gold for a King, frankincense for worship and myrrh for used for anointing the dead. They were prepared to make the journey. There were no tracks, or maps, the desert sands were their oceans, their way of doing things suspect to those of Jewish faith. They were Magicians, Astrologers. Scientists. Using other knowledge they find the child.
They lost their way, fatally assuming that a king would be born in Herod's palace, but they found the star again and a baby in an unexpected place. This story asserts that this baby is accessible to all, and those labelled as outsiders find they are in the inner circle around the manger.. . There is a story about the church of the nativity in Bethlehem that in 614 Persians who were invading the country and destroying churches went in and saw the mosaics of the Wise men dressed in Persian clothes— fellow Persians — that were in the nativity scene that decorated the building. And they spared the building.
It is important for a community to occasionally stop and see where they have come from. I'm not talking about searching individual genealogies, absorbing as they are and part of the story as they are, but looking at our communal identity together. And everyone who lives and works and worships here is part of that community no matter how long or how short a time they have been here. For our context forms us, is part of our identity.
One of the first things that new immigrants do when going to a new place is to try to make it like where they have come from.
They discover that some things work and some do not. I guess that the first travellers to this land found that their more tropical plants would not grow, but they were familiar with the sea and tended to settle by the shore. Wakas were the familiar form of transport and our region was important and still is because it is strategically placed, giving access by portages to two great harbours and the east and west coasts of the land. Everyone who wanted to travel north or south by land had to go through Papatoetoe. They still do. So we do not live in a quiet backwater but a place which must always be changing because it is where people travel. Today of course we are the gateway to the airport..
The Fencibles, men with army service, and their families settled in Otahuhu in 1847 and they built a stone bridge across the Tamaki estuary just down the road and by doing this the Papatoetoe area was opened up
European -Irish and Scottish - settlers brought horses and carts. The landscape began changing to look like Britain. Fenced paddocks, green grass and neat farmhouses. Tracks were no longer adequate, roads became essential to travel to the markets and for military use.
But by the time John Macky arrived from Ireland in august 1854 to come to this parish, there was a bridge over the river and his brother in law Samuel Baird had bought land on the southern side of the river. The Great South Road formed Papatoetoe. It was built for military use then Farmers settled and the roads were used for taking the produce to market or to the river, . By then the the Auckland Provincial Council Highways Act 1862 recognised it was necessary to provide for communities to be able to maintain their roads and later other public services. Hunter's Corner was an important crossroads for the East Tamaki road and Great South Road.
The serving of community by the Christian churches is woven into the foundations of this community Otahuhu was a main centre where some of the churches were - the Anglican and Catholic churches. . In the Papatoetoe district , the first local churches were the Methodist in 1853 [at Woodside - Wiri] and the Presbyterians in 1854, and the Anglicans had a mission at Pukaki in the 1850's
Schools were established by the churches. The Otara School was established by the Otara Presbyterian church, now St Johns,. 1856, the congregation employed the school master and later accepted Government subsidies and came under the education department. . The school grew and shifted in 1884 to become what is now known as Papatoetoe Central school.
South Auckland's first subscription library was established by The congregation at St John's Presbyterian Church, Otara 27 Dec 1857, [Papatoetoe] In effect South Auckland's first 'public library', this is housed in a bookcase in one corner of the church (see also 28 April 1860).
The Great South Road is still a main artery for Auckland. You might think that the motorway has replaced it but it has not. Hunters Corner in particular notices this. No banner can be placed across the street, because all the big loads travel this way. At night, huge loads travel down the road because the motorway bridges cannot deal with the biggest items being transported. We cannot easily close the Great South Road for a fair or event for the same reason. Look for yourself - drive down the Great South Road and you will find there are no bridges over the road, - go and find the old places where the canoes were transported across the isthmus.
I have confined the content today to deal with the early beginnings of Papatoetoe.
But to make a quick mention of the later immigrants who travelled here faster than the first ones. They have also been more diverse, from the Pacific Islands, from Europe, from South East Asia, India, South Africa and China. In our streets English is not the major language, nor is Samoan and the change has been rapid - over the last ten years.
At this time of anniversary remembering we must make sure that all are included. For it will give greater understanding to everyone in the community about who we are and whom we are becoming. It should help us to see the future in a new light, to clarify what is really important and not just deal with nostalgia.
It is also hard for those newly arrived to understand that they are part of it when they are busy trying to do as every wave of settlers has done and make it like home.
In the Christmas story it is the strangers who recognise the child, the treasure which is lying in that manager.
The wise ones, we are told, knelt and gave their allegience to this baby Jesus in the dusty obscure town of Bethlehem, not to Herod in his amazing palace and then they travelled on a different road.
Community at the end is about people, Jesus tells us clearly to love God and love our neighbour as he has loved us. That is how we become those who give life to a community, and find life ourselves.
May God guide us on the journey
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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