As I write this piece, the news is still developing from the Philippines. Thankfully, the estimated death rate is falling as more people who had been displaced and missing are returning to their home areas. Sadly, they are finding that they have no home to go to. Supplies are starting to arrive but the charities that are involved need money to provide their on-going support. That is why I have chosen the Bishops' Appeal Fund as one of the beneficiaries for my Christmas sit out. This fund supports the charities, missions and churches that are dealing directly with the crisis. I have also chosen Aware Defeat Depression NI. This is an organisation based in Belfast and Londonderry that provides support and advice and information across the Province concerning depression, which affects one in four people in Northern Ireland at some time in their lives. It can take many guises and hit children, post-natal mothers, the elderly and all generations. It is no respecter of wealth, gender or even faith.

Christmas is a time of peace, good-will and joy but if you are struggling with depression, it can be a dreadful time. That is why the central message of Christmas time MUST be kept absolutely central. It is emphasised by the churches every year - "God is with us". Whether we feel the joy that goes with this or not, God is here. Generosity, feasting, gift-giving and partying are all part of our response to Jesus, but we can also respond by simply allowing his Spirit to gently touch and heal our broken lives. Because God became man, he is here with us. He came as a weak, helpless baby, not a rich and powerful and remote celebrity. He lived as a man of the people, healing, loving and challenging. He died feeling forsaken, abandoned and alone.

As a result, we can pray, because God is with us and hears us; we can have eternal life; we can have a purpose beyond this life and in this life; we can know that we are loved by God. That is certainly a reason to have carol services, holidays, parties and much feasting. It is also a reason to be quiet and consider the deep significance of having God become man to be with us. In the midst of suffering, there would be no hope, no light, no comfort. But that light still shines in the darkness, bringing the hope that the birth of Jesus brought into the world.

May you have a peaceful and spirit-filled Christmas with the deep joy of Jesus in your heart. The Lord be with you.