This week on Christmas Day we come to the 200 year anniversary of the proclamation of Te Harinui in New Zealand. A beautiful structure named Rore Kahu – soaring eagle – has been established on the hill top at Rangihoua overlooking the bay where Rev Samuel Marsden came ashore and preached glad tidings of great joy. It is aptly named, for from that beginning the Spirit took flight in our land.
No doubt the reporting this week will focus on the social and cultural significance of this event. In particular it will be celebrated as the beginning of Maori and European relationship, and the start of the journey to the Treaty. And of course it was. But the prime significance of this historic event was neither social or cultural. It was spiritual.
Christmas Day 1814 was the moment when the transforming and redemptive power of Te Rongopai – the good news of Jesus Christ – found its way to these islands at the uttermost ends of the earth. Much social, cultural and even political change followed. But the underlying dynamism driving it all was essentially spiritual.
Our secular historians struggle with this. However they cannot deny the huge move of Christianity across New Zealand. The historical records speak for themselves. Within twenty years of Marsden’s first visit, tens of thousands of Maori were in regular attendance at church services from Paihia to Kapiti to the East Cape. Even Michael King in his Penguin history of New Zealand had to acknowledge that by the 1830s “Te Atua, the God of the Bible was on the move”.
And this was no mere pragmatic adaptation of European cultural form. Christianity found authentic indigenous expression in places all over New Zealand before missionaries had even been there. Slaves liberated in the Bay of Islands had taken the message back to their own tribes and faith sprang up wherever they went. And it was genuine faith. The evidence for this abounds in the stories that have come down to us.
There was Far North chief Nopera Panakareao who sent a gold sovereign to Paihia for his personal copy of the the newly printed Maori New Testament. There was Tamihana Te Rauparaha who with his cousin Matene and friends retreated to Kapiti Island to study, memorise and pray over the mere fragments of Bible they had obtained. There was Wiremu Tamihana, the Maori kingmaker, who set up the Christian village of Peria near Matamata and who lived and died with his Bible in his hands.
These Maori leaders and many others like them, bear witness to the foundational spiritual reality that was established at Rangihoua on Christmas Day 1814. Like so many before them across the centuries, this was a people responding to the love of God. Te Harinui was real. It still is. The One born in Bethlehem is still changing the world, one heart at a time.
May His Spirit soar again in our nation.
20 December 2014