Opinion: the gift of Christmas

Faith in Cambridge

By Murray Smith
Senor Leader Bridges Church

Sometimes in history, people and situations which were not particularly accorded as being of much significance turn out to be of immense importance.

This is true of Ruatara, a young man who held chiefly status among his Ngapuhi people. In 1805 following a curious penchant that he had for travel, he bravely signed up as a sailor on a whaling ship. Sadly, he was treated poorly and ended up the following year stranded in Sydney. Nevertheless he signed onto another ship, eventually reaching London in 1809.

Ruatara noted English agricultural practices with great interest. He also ‘happened’ to meet an English clergyman called Samuel Marsden before returning to New Zealand in 1812.

As random as these events may have appeared then, in hindsight they would prove to carry significance in the unfolding historical heritage of our nation.

Ruatara, with his standing among Ngapuhi welcomed Marsden onto tribal land. As a result of this gesture, at a little beach in the Bay of Islands just over 200 years ago, on December 25, 1814, the pakeha preacher Marsden stood behind a makeshift pulpit constructed from a cut down canoe. He read to a curious crowd, while Ruatara translated…

“I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people…”

“Kaua e mātāku ta te mea he kaikauwhau tenei ahau ki a koutou mo te hāri nui meake puta mai ki te iwi kātoa”

Although unheralded, Ruatara became a key influence in the Christmas message being first declared to his people and ultimately of course, throughout our nation.

Today this event has become somewhat overlooked, but ironically the remarkable Christmas message itself is markedly overlooked too, often being dismissed as inconsequential, or at best substituted with other traditions that obscure the quintessential essence of Christ’s coming.

This ‘good news’ first announced such a long time ago to a Jewish girl called Mary, still transcends cultural or generational divides bringing hope and joy to all people.

Mary, growing up in humble surroundings, was visited by an Angel bringing the startling announcement that she would conceive a child supernaturally. Her baby would be Jesus the Saviour of the entire world…sent from heaven to live among humanity as the exact expression of God Himself – His death and resurrection would be the means of reconciling and restoring broken humanity.

Everyone has strayed and done wrong in life. Because of Christ’s coming- a Saviour has been provided. The regret, shame and frustration of someone’s past, need not prescribe their future if this gift of a Saviour is received.

The good news inherent in the Christ-mas message is that a gift is on offer…the gift of a ‘fresh start’…the chance to start over.

The real Christmas story is neither myth nor fanciful concoction.

This good news first proclaimed in Aotearoa 200 was that Christ’s birth heralds hope… opportunity for grace, forgiveness and wholeness.

The life-changing transforming power of this message remains relevant for all of us today.

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