The Christmas season is a joyous time, a season for family, love, gift giving and charity.
But for those struggling through hardships, it can be one of the most difficult times of the year.
Area religious leaders recognize this and reach out to those seeking respite in the church's spiritual warmth this Christmas Eve.
Father John Ludden of Saint John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Naples will remind parishioners that God is always with them.
"For those who have lost jobs and their homes, Christmas can be a double-edged sword," Ludden said. "Sometimes it reminds people of their losses. The Christ event reminds us that he paved our way to eternity. It's a reminder that it all makes sense and comes together through the coming of Jesus."
An excerpt from Ludden's Christmas Eve mass sermon follows:
"Whether we are rich or poor, God loves us equally and without conditions.
Christmas reminds us that God is always with us. Jesus journeys with the Church as it moves forward through time. He is the foundation that makes us stand firm."
Pastor Hayes Wicker, who leads First Baptist Church Naples, will also extend an inspirational message of God's grace during the most difficult times at the church's Christmas Eve candlelight service.
"I hope that they will go away, no matter how difficult their situation is in life, knowing that God loves us and is with us and wants to meet our needs," said Wicker who will speak to more than 3,000 people in two services that day. "Because of his birth, we have hope."
At Celebration Community Church's outdoor service on Lowdermilk Beach, about 2,000 people clad in flip-flops and shorts will gather for Pastor Gene Scott's sermon. This year, he will talk about the meaning of "coming home" for Christmas.
"All the major players in the first Christmas were not home," said Scott, the popular pastor known for his engaging Sunday services on the shore. "But it's a wonderful time of year to come home to God's love and forgiveness. Knowing this will give comfort to many who are not home this year, like those deployed in the Armed Forces."
Here are a few thoughts and passages Scott will reflect on during his sermon.
Come home to God's love and forgiveness.
"Nothing in all creation is able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:39
"Come home to me again, for I am merciful." Hebrews 3:12
Associate Pastor Harold Brown will speak at six Christmas Eve services at North Naples United Methodist Church. His sermon will remind attendees to give back, even during hard times.
"Our sins were given through his grace and we our called to do something about that," Brown said. "I know many are suffering this year. But it is important to give back and share, even in the toughest times. A gift doesn't have to be tangible."
An excerpt from his sermon:
"This child of modest arrival on the world scene is to teach elders in the synagogue, share the ethics of the best life to many gathered in the out of doors on the mountain, bring healing and wholeness with divine insight to numerous persons with health issues and emotional histories that are very challenging."
For Christmas Eve and Christmas Day service times, check with your local church for a complete listing.