Christmas can be a lonely time for some people
For many people across Ireland, Christmas is primarily a time for children, who often can't wait to get the Christmas tree up and the decorations out halfway through November.
Christmas is a time for visiting friends and spending time with our families. Yet for some, Christmas can also be a particularly lonely time, not just for the refugee far from home, or the homeless person living rough on our streets, but for people we may know - those coping with bereavement, an older person living alone next door, or a young person connected to the virtual world, but isolated in the real one.
As Christians we are called to love our neighbour, welcome the stranger and care for those in need. Christmas time gives us an additional opportunity to express that love through practical acts of kindness, thoughtfulness and appreciation to those whom we know and those who have no one else to care for them.
Jesus, whose birth we celebrate, not only calls us who are His children to love our neighbour through providing for their practical needs, but their spiritual wellbeing too. Christmas is a time where we can affirm the answers to the great questions of our age: What is the purpose of life, where am I going and how do I get there?
These answers are found in the message delivered by the angels and relayed to the shepherds in the hills above Bethlehem: 'For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.' (Luke 2:11).
The term 'Saviour' has more than a sentimental ring, but carries with it the emphasis of a need - a 'saviour' is one who rescues. As our Saviour, Jesus Christ became that reality not at the cradle, but on the cross. He was born to die. The well-known Christmas Carol 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing' sums it up in these words: 'Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.'
Through his sacrifice on the cross Jesus Christ provided for us, pardon for the past, leading to peace in the present and hope for the future. All who become children of God can claim this assurance.
As we celebrate Christmas, let us remember those who don't know the blessing of companionship, those who feel isolated or forgotten and resolve with love and compassion to act.
And as we are reminded of God's great love for us in sending his Son, may each of us ask ourselves the question; have I become a child of God? For the cradle is a pointer to the cross.
May I take this opportunity to wish you, and your loved ones, a very happy Christmas and pray that you come into a deeper relationship with God in 2016, or come to know Him for the very first time.
Rt Rev Dr Ian McNie,
Moderator, Presbyterian Church in Ireland