Not on a snowy night / By star or candlelight / Nor by an angel band / There came to our dear land ...
Reading these words for many of us automatically brings to mind the tune sung at end-of-year school concerts and carol services all over the country at Christmas time.
Te Harinui / Te Harinui / Te Hari-nu-i / Glad tid-ings of great joy.
The much-loved Christmas song by Willow Macky is not only distinctive to New Zealand but also remarkably good history.
But on a summer day / Within a quiet bay / The Maori people heard / The great and glorious word ...
This year thousands of people have made the journey to that quiet bay, Rangihoua or Oihi, in the Bay of Islands as New Zealand marks the bicentenary, 200 years, since the events described in the song.
Christmas Day 1814 was when the Good News - te Rongopai - of Jesus Christ was preached for the first time on New Zealand soil. The preacher was Rev Samuel Marsden who had come at the invitation of local chief Ruatara. Friendships had been formed with Ruatara, Te Pahi, and other Maori chiefs who had visited Sydney over previous years.
On board the ship with Marsden were the King, Hall, and Kendall families who stayed on as missionaries with local Maori after Marsden sailed back to Sydney. This was likely the first permanent Pakeha settlement.
The people gathered round / Upon the grassy ground / And heard the preacher say / I bring to you this day ...
Although there is no copy of what "the preacher" said that day, there are approximately 150 of Marsden's sermons in collections around the world, including three on the same text:
"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10,11)
David Pettett from Sydney University has researched Marsden's sermons. In a paper delivered at a history conference in Waitangi in 2012 he reconstructed what Marsden probably said based on the common themes he used when he preached on that text. Pettett said it is likely Marsden would have made the following points. Some of the language may sound unfamiliar but the message is as true this Christmas as it was back then.
The birth of Christ is the most important event the world has ever seen.
Our calendar, dating from the birth of Christ approximately 2014 years ago, underscores the fact that it is the most important event the world has ever seen.
It is good tidings of great joy for all people.
The "great joy" mentioned by Marsden is known by hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders, from every ethnic group, every age group, and every part of the country. Not only "great joy" but great peace, great purpose, great hope.
This event has been long and anxiously expected by the faithful.
While the faithful more than 2000 years ago were "anxiously expecting" the birth of Christ, the Bible says that God has put eternity in all of our hearts. Deep down we sense there must be something more to life. And there is!
Those who are awaiting a temporal messiah will be disappointed because this Messiah brings spiritual blessings
People have always looked for "temporal Messiahs" - people or institutions that will "save us" - and solve our problems. The problem is, temporal messiahs - the government, the market, the council, the union, even our whanau and family members - are not perfect. They cannot solve all our problems. We will be disappointed.
This event has been announced with great rejoicing by the angels of heaven who have declared a Saviour for humankind.
The birth of Jesus was announced by angels. He is the true Saviour - God in human form. Those who follow Him find new life and experience eternal blessings.
This Messiah was not born in a palace, but a stable, making him accessible to all people.
Contrary to expectations, our Saviour came from the humblest of beginnings, born in a stable, raised in a small village. He is God, yet he is accessible to all people.
This is the superior Saviour because he defeats the Evil One and saves from Hell.
Spiritual challenges affect everyone, even if we don't realise it. Greed, pride, selfishness, temptation, discouragement. The list goes on. And we all fall short of the standards we try to live by, let alone God's perfect standard. Christians recognise there is an evil force or presence behind these things. Ultimately they could lead us to hell, an eternal state that some feel they are already experiencing in their lives here on earth.
The essential message of the Christian faith is that by his death and resurrection, Jesus has freed us from these things. When we trust Jesus as our Saviour, we receive eternal life, and we experience a new freedom and a new desire to live differently today.
Now is the time to follow this Saviour because you may not be alive next Christmas season.
Marsden's final point is both a warning and an invitation. When we hear the message about Jesus the Saviour we are confronted with a choice to accept this message and follow Jesus or not. To not choose is to choose. To delay is risky.
We pray safety and blessing for you and your families this Christmas.
Why not visit a church nearby on Christmas Day, sing the Christmas songs, enjoy the fellowship, listen for the voice of God, and begin a new life.
Now in this blessed land / United heart and hand / We praise the glorious birth / And sing to all the earth
Te Harinui / Te Harinui / Te Hari-nu-i / Glad tid-ings of great joy.
200 years ago Te Rongopai o Ihu Karaiti - the Good News of Jesus Christ - changed people's lives, and helped end social evils like utu, slavery, and tribal warfare.
It created harmonious relationships between Maori and Pakeha, and the trust that was established laid the foundation for te Tiriti o Waitangi - the Treaty of Waitangi.
Sadly, human greed and colonialism undermined the work of te Rongopai. We are still working through the consequences of injustices done.
But God is at work in Aotearoa, and his salvation, his offer of new and eternal life, continues to bring hope and peace for all who follow Him.
• Rev Dr Neville Bartle, national superintendent, Church of the Nazarene
• Rt Rev Ross Bay, Anglican Bishop of Auckland
• Mr Peter Browning, Northern Association, Baptist Churches of New Zealand
• Mr Glyn Carpenter, national director, New Zealand Christian Network
• Pastor Paul de Jong, senior pastor, LIFE
• Pastor Jonathan Dove, senior pastor, Greenlane Christian Centre
• Most Rev Patrick Dunn, Catholic Bishop of Auckland
• Mr Peter Eccles, Auckland District Chairman, Congregational Union of New Zealand
• Mr David Goold, on behalf of the Open Brethren Churches
• Pastor Mike Griffiths, national leader, Elim Churches of New Zealand
• Pastor Ken Harrison, senior pastor, Harvest Christian Church, Papakura AOGNZ
• Pastor Dr Brian Hughes, senior pastor, Calvary Chapel
• Major Stephen Jarvis, divisional commander, the Salvation Army
• Very Rev Jo Kelly-Moore, Dean, Auckland Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
• Pastor Joe Kummerow, Auckland leader, Lutheran Church of New Zealand
• Rev Andrew Marshall, national director, Alliance Churches of New Zealand
• Pastor Bruce Monk, national leader, Acts Churches of New Zealand
• Pastor Sam Monk, senior pastor, Equippers Church
• Pastor Peter Mortlock, senior pastor, City Impact Church
• Rev Margaret Anne Low, moderator designate, Northern Presbytery, Presbyterian Church
• Pastor Lloyd Rankin, national director, Vineyard Churches Aotearoa New Zealand
• Pastor Dean Rush, national leader, C3 Churches
• Pastor Jim Shaw, New Life Churches Apostolic team
• Pastor Eddie Tupa'i, president, North New Zealand Conference, Seventh-Day Adventist Church
• Rev Dr Richard Waugh, national superintendent, Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand
• Rev Marilyn Welch, Auckland Manukau Northland superintendent, Methodist Church of New Zealand.