Moderator’s Christmas message

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In his Christmas message, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rt. Rev. Dr. Noble McNeely, whose first congregation was First Ballymoney Presbyterian, focuses on the giving and receiving of gifts, especially those that create a lasting memory.

He talks of a memorable, yet humbling gift of a scrawny chicken that he received earlier this year in Zambia, and a Christmas shoebox appeal at home for thousands of children in eastern Europe, which also made a lasting impression on him, “boxes of simple delight that will bring so much joy to those who receive them,” Dr. McNeely writes.

But it is the greatest gift that we have been given that he asks we remember and celebrate at this special time saying, “As we approach Christmas Day itself, let us remember another gift, a 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 birth of Christ – and the salvation that He offers to all who will receive Him - is a wonderful demonstration and constant reminder of God’s perfect love for each of us. This gift is a living memory, which we celebrate, and a precious reminder that at just the right moment in history, “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son” (Galatians 4:4).

Dr. McNeely undertook his first Presbytery Tour in October, which was of the denomination’s Route Presbytery, covering most of north County Antrim, including Ballymoney.

MODERATOR’S CHRISTMAS MESSAGE

I often open my mail with a bone-handled cheese knife that has sat on my desk for more than 30 years. I received it as a Christmas gift from a young boy I taught in Bible class. I thought it was a very unusual gift to get at the time, but three decades later I make good use of it. This was a gift that created a particular memory for me.

Over the years I have received many Christmas gifts that, I am sad to say, have long since been forgotten. But it is, however, very special to get a gift that you remember - and to give a gift that creates a lasting memory for someone else.

While in Zambia this year visiting our global mission worker, Diane Cusick, we travelled into the remote bush to visit a community and before leaving we were given a chicken by a couple of very humble villagers. It cost them dearly to give away the scrawny bantam, but it was their pleasure to part with the bird and by doing so it etched a memory Florence and I won’t forget.

Once again this year there will be thousands of Christmas gifts bought in our packed shops. Within days they will more than likely be forgotten and in many cases what was received wasn’t something that was really needed.

So, should we consider giving gifts that will form a memory? 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.

While travelling around churches in recent months I have seen hundreds of specially prepared Christmas shoeboxes ready to be sent to eastern Europe. On a cold but bright December morning I visited Townsend Street Presbyterian Church in west Belfast, the main distribution point in Northern Ireland for the charity Samaritan’s Purse. Here I met many faithful people packing some of the 37,000 boxes being sent out, boxes of simple delight that will bring so much joy to those who receive them.

When a child opens their surprise present, a lasting memory will be formed, especially as it might be the first time a Christmas gift has been 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, for those who receive it.

As we approach Christmas Day itself, let us remember another gift, a 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 birth of Christ – and the salvation that He offers to all who will receive Him - is a wonderful demonstration and constant reminder of God’s perfect love for each of us. This gift is a living memory, which we celebrate, and a precious reminder that at just the right moment in history, “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son” (Galatians 4:4).

Rt. Rev. Dr. Noble McNeely

Moderator

Presbyterian Church in Ireland