FR JOHN FORSYTHE, PP, ST MARY’S ON THE HILL
Christmas is a lovely time of year, and surely there cannot be that many card-carrying bah-humbuggers who have left the field of play?
For those that do celebrate, be honest, we allow ourselves to be seduced into conformity as we moondance through the seasonal landmarks of shopping days and Christmas songs. Clichéd it well may be but it is children who take centre stage. Watching Nativity school plays I invariably find at least one aspect that hits home with me and that’s watching the ‘no room at the inn’ scene as a desperate young unmarried mother going into labour is met with the slamming of doors by innkeepers.
The scene is perennial and it did not only happen a long time ago in Bethlehem – It is here in our midst. Over a hundred men sleep rough on the streets of Belfast each night. Recently Syrian families, fleeing from unimaginable horror, arrived in our city. Thankfully the vast majority of our people show compassion and mercy and church collections for the refugees are hitting record amounts – £220,000 from the people of the diocese of Down and Connor alone.
Amidst the cold and darkness, the cynicism and excess, there are still people who exemplify the saying ‘treat others as you would like them to treat you’. Those words are of that baby who was born in a night shelter as an infant refugee and asylum seeker but was destined to become the One who has had more impact than any living person on this planet. That is real love.
PASTOR ALBERT MCDONALD, ANTRIM ROAD BAPTIST CHURCH
This Christmas I want to talk to you about a God who wants to make himself known, a God who introduces himself to us through His word, the Bible, and by His own son Jesus Christ.
A name says a lot about who you are. Some 700 years before the Christmas story began Isaiah foretold “a virgin shall be with child and will give birth to a son and you will call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7V 14). That name simply means God with us.
That virgin girl was Mary who was told by an angel that her child was to be “called son of God” (Luke 1v 31 ). God was to be known to us through his son, Jesus, who himself said, “If you want to know God then you have got to know me.” That same God who breathed out stars, created the heavens and the Earth wants us to know him. The amazing truth is he took on human flesh, he set aside everything he was in order to become human. God Incarnate. Now in my mind that’s a God worth getting to know, a God of love and relationships, a God who would lower Himself to be mistreated in order to show us how much He really loved us.
His message this Christmas is still one of forgiveness and reconciliation, not only between nations and communities but with God himself. As Saviour of the world He is a personal friend who just does not want to be known at Christmas but throughout your life.
This Christmas our prayer is that Jesus is recognised as much more than just a name but at whose utterance every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
FR MARTIN MAGILL, PP, SACRED HEART
On Tuesday, December 8, 2015, Pope Francis opened a ‘Year of Mercy’ and in the course of the coming year many different opportunities will arise not only to think about mercy but also to display mercy. It will give us a chance to think about God’s mercy but, more importantly, to be merciful like God the Father. Recently the first group of refugees from Syria arrived in our city. We can show mercy to these people who have been through traumatic experiences by way of welcoming and caring for them through community outreach. Our city of Belfast seems to have growing numbers of people living on our streets. Whilst some of us may have time to stop and talk to them we can show mercy by supporting some of the different charities that are working with the homeless. It is also important to show mercy to prisoners and former prisoners. As a society we can do this by putting in place the structures to re-integrate those who were in prison. A useful place to start would be a public discussion on a merciful response to former prisoners. As we prepare to celebrate Christmas this year, I pray that we may become more merciful as individuals and as a society.