Churches put focus on care at Christmas
The themes of caring for others and reconciliation are central to Christmas messages from the leaders of the main denominations in Northern Ireland.
The challenge of Christmas is to bring safety in the widest sense into the lives of the people around us, according to the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Reverend Richard Clarke and the Roman Catholic Primate, the Most Reverend Eamon Martin.
In a joint Christmas message, they urged people to reach out to others in need.
"There are people in our midst who are without the security of food or even of a roof over their heads.
"There are those who are newcomers to our country, perhaps of a different religious faith and culture, who feel that they are objects of suspicion and dislike," they said.
"And there are those whose need for security in their lives is less evident - who are alone and afraid, who are without friends and without people who will 'look out' for them, and some who feel that their lives have become aimless or 'useless' and almost empty of hope and confidence. Christmas is a time when many of us are happy to have the emotional security and safety of our family and friends around us, and the comfort of assurance and strong faith in the birth of the Saviour. Let us be ready to share our safety and our reasons for hoping, with others."
The Presbyterian Moderator, the Right Reverend Noble McNeely, asked people to consider giving Christmas gifts that will be remembered.
"Could we as families try something different that might create a memory that lasts? If we curtail the excesses and consider something imaginative, it may also make a difference to someone else's life," he said.
The Moderator said that while travelling around the local churches, he had seen hundreds of Christmas shoeboxes for people in eastern Europe.
"When a child opens their surprise present, a lasting memory will be formed, especially as it might be the first time that a Christmas gift will be received.
"Many organisations are providing opportunities to give to a Christmas appeal or subscribe to an ethical gift like a goat that will form a lasting memory and practical assistance," he said.
"As we approach Christmas Day, let us remember another gift that has been given freely - the one and only perfect gift of Jesus, coming to earth and meeting humanity in its greatest need."
The Methodist President, the Reverend Laurence Graham, said: "In Northern Ireland we live in a disconnected society, and it's not just the politicians who are disconnected. It goes down to every level of society. We live in a broken disconnected world, but Jesus came to connect. That's what Advent and Christmas are all about.
"The message of this time of year is about the fact that God reached out so that we could meet Him. So, as we respond to God reaching out to us, let us also ask ourselves: 'What can I do to reach out to others, to cross boundaries and offer reconciliation? We complain about our political leaders not getting together at Stormont. What about us?'"
Meanwhile, Peter Lynas, director of Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland, said: "Christmas is a season of hope that has been taken over by consumerism.
"Our job is to be merchants of holy hope - in our marriage and our families, in our schools and hospitals, in workshops and offices, in buses and trains, in restaurants and takeaways, in houses and homes.
"We are to redirect the fear and insecurity in the world around us into the hope of Jesus. Christmas reminds us that we are sent into the world to get our hands dirty.
"We must also challenge, encourage and pray for our politicians."