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Rev. Robin McAlpine

Updated: 22 Dec 2021

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Weekly Thoughts

Robin has written, compiled, read and presented some thoughts for various days during the week. You can find links to his reflections for Sundays by using the index on the right of the page.

The latest thoughts are at the top of the page or you can scroll down to read earlier entries.

Near-Sighted God (Wednesday 22nd December)

Surely, this commandment is not too far away. It is not in heaven; neither is it beyond the sea. No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. - Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (NRSV, abridged)

I am very nearsighted. Without corrective eyewear, it is unsafe and potentially lifethreatening for me to leave the house. I can’t recognize much of anything (or anyone) beyond three feet, and reading means literally putting my nose in the book.

My only comfort is that God is extremely near-sighted too.

Nearness isn’t a uniquely Christian idea, but it is distinctively Christian. The primary thrust of the gospel is Emmanuel, God with us, God getting close, God not only putting her nose into human life, but God expressed in a full human body.

Some might see the act of divine nearness as an act, God deliberately and temporarily descending a faraway, heavenly throne to look in on the earthlings, like a royal donning the clothes of a pauper to see how common folk are faring. These visions of paternalism, bordering on slum voyeurism, do not square with my sense of God as radically immanent and innate in addition to transcendent.

Perhaps the biggest mistake we make in the spiritual journey is to assume that God is somewhere else, something else or someone else. There is no “else” to God. God’s nearness is fundamental and immutable. God doesn’t move.

A near-sighted God is the One we need and the One we receive; a God who has a face and gets in ours, close enough to see every freckle, pore, wrinkle, and tear at the atomic level. This God is nearer still, present in our flesh, inviting us to draw near, look closely and love fully.


O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, God near us, with us and in us.

Matt Laney

Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC in Atlanta, GA and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers.

The Gift of Christmas (Wednesday 22nd December)

I got this from my Canadian cousin. I found it very thought provoking. I hope you find it similar.

George Drummond

Artist Charlie Mackesy, using charcoal and canvas, shares a stunning picture of the Gift of Christmas at HTB's Alternative Carols service.

Christmas Thoughts (Tuesday 21st December)



Good evening and welcome, to a special Christmas Eve edition of the X-Factor. And tonight, because it is Christmas, we are asking you to vote for one of our special contestants. They are each going to tell us what they think is the X-factor in Christmas- or should that be Xmas…?

Our first contestant tonight is Noel…So, Noel, what is the Christmas X-factor for you?

Noel: Well, it has to be X-pensive.

I mean Christmas is all about money, isn’t it? Money for presents, money for food, for drinks, for clothes, for parties. Yeah, Christmas is all about being in the red… and I don’t mean red-nosed reindeer or Santa suits. It’s all about credit cards, not Christmas cards for me. Away with my money, not “Away in a Manger”. I mean even at the first Christmas the Wise men brought gold, didn’t they? I’m with Scrooge on this one: Christmas! Bah! Humbug!
So, X-pensive gets my vote and should get yours too!

Well, thank you Noel…

Our next contestant is Holly…So, Holly, what is the Christmas X-factor for you?

Holly: Well, it has to be X-hausted.

I mean I am so tired…I have been working for weeks to make everyone’s Christmas dreams come true, and quite frankly, it is a bit of a nightmare…
3 hours I stood in Next for a pair of Sloth pyjamas…2 hours in M&S for a “this is not just a turkey this a golden roasted, honey basted turkey” … I have cleaned the house, written the cards: God Rest You Merry Gentlemen? I don’t think so… And there are still presents to wrap, mince pies to make and that “this is not just a turkey this a golden roasted, honey basted turkey” … to cook!
You know my least favourite Christmas song? It’s “I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day!” Obviously written by someone rich enough to employ a personal shopper!
So, X-hausted gets my vote and should get yours too!

Well thank you Holly…

Our next contestant is Nick…So, Nick, what is the Christmas X-factor for you?

Nick: Well, it has to be X-ploited

I mean, just because it’s Christmas, they must think we’ve all lost our brains, gone into a Christmas Commonsense Coma.
For example: fruit cake with icing: £3. Fruit cake with sprig of Holly: £5! Fruit and nut cake, I think!
Then there’s the TV. Call it a Christmas Special, re-run The Vicar of Dibley and everyone says, “Isn’t nice to have something religious at Christmas!” That must be a joke or are we just crackers?
Or throw 24 sweets in a box, put Homer Simpson on the front, call it an Advent Calendar and double the price! Doh!
Better still, dig out all the old Broons and Oor Wullie Sunday Post pages, put them in a book, call it an Annual and it will be a Christmas “collector’s item” in 50 years!
I ask you…Do they Know it’s Christmas…too true.
So, X-ploited gets my vote and should get yours too.

Well, thank you Nick…

Our last contestant tonight is Carol…So, Carol, I’m almost afraid to ask… what is the Christmas X-factor for you?

Carol: It has to be X for kisses factor, you know, love and kisses and all that. I love Xmas!

I mean there are kisses under the mistletoe …and hugs beneath the holly. Lots of love on the presents and cards…marvellous memories of songs like “I saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus” … and candles and carols at church…and that great moment as you sit on Christmas Eve and there’s nothing else to do but enjoy it all. You know, the hymn “Love Came Down at Christmas”? That just says it all for me. It’s all about love, isn’t it?

Well, thank you, Carol.

So, audience, all you have to do now is vote.

X-pensive Noel? X-hausted Holly? X-ploited Nick? Or Xxxx (kisses)Carol?

And while we wait for the results just wish whoever you are with a Happy Christmas or even a hug!

And the winner is…Carol! Merry Xmas!

Nancy Gilmartin

Christmas Thoughts (Thursday 16th December)

Two Christmas cards: Brueghel 1566 and Banksy 2012.

Brueghel 1566
Brueghel 1566
Banksy 2012
Banksy 2012

446 years separate these two Christmas card scenes. At first glance they might seem to have nothing in common, but the figures of Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem are in the centre of both pictures. And their messages may be different but are relevant to Christmas 2021.

Breughel’s “Census at Bethlehem” was painted in 1566. Finding Mary and Joseph is hard in this scene of the hustle and bustle of everyday life in 16th century Flanders. The inn is busy with people paying their taxes. Children play in the snow. A pig is killed for food. People go about their exhausting daily work. A church is just visible in the distance. The poverty is obvious and made worse by the snow and ice.

2021 is like that: we too have concerns about money, work, food, the climate, and thanks to omicron, even church seems far away. But perhaps one message of Christmas suggested by this painting is this: Jesus was born into a busy -and sometimes bad - world, just like ours. Sometimes it can be hard to believe, but God, Emmanuel, Jesus is with us at Christmas and always. And worth looking for and finding.

Banksy is most famous for his cartoon -like graffiti and has produced many pieces showing his support for the Palestinian people. In this picture he shows Mary and Joseph unable to reach Bethlehem because of the 250-mile-long separation wall built by Israel from 2002. The wall divides Israel and Palestine and while the reasons for it are political, it has resulted in economic disaster for those prevented by it from accessing work and healthcare.

As in traditional Christmas scenes, however, Banksy includes shepherds and sheep, but they too cannot reach Bethlehem. There is a Star and a distant view of Jerusalem, but the concrete wall has no door and cannot be crossed.

In 2021 many people will appreciate this feeling of being separated, cut off from celebrating Christmas. The message of this image suggests God, Jesus, Emmanuel is literally, on our side. God is present in the hard places of our world.

Nancy Gilmartin

Thinking about Advent 4 (Monday 13th December)

In a manger
In a manger

Thinking about it, the events of Christmas were challenging and provoking two thousand years ago. And they sound horribly familiar to us, something we might see on our news and media.

There is the stark exposure of the troubles of a well-known couple- the tragedy of Elizabeth and Zechariah: they are childless, “an old man “with a “wife well on in years” which others see as a “disgrace.”

There is the examination of and commenting on of private lives- the “public disgrace” prospect of Mary’s pregnancy before marriage which makes Joseph consider he whether he should “divorce her quietly.”

There is the human tragedy and collateral damage of conflict and war- the forced eighty-mile journey of a woman in the last stage of pregnancy at the whim of a distant ruler of an occupying army and her child being cradled “in a manger”- an animal feeding place. There is the genocide of those innocents who threaten the reigning regime - the psychopathic politician Herod, who gives “orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.”

There is the sight of refugees fleeing for their lives- Joseph saving his family, having been told “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” It seems there is nothing new on what we might well call the Bad News channel.

But Gods message to those at the centre of the story then, is called Good News, and so also perhaps what we need to hear now.

Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph, are each told “Do not be afraid “. And the shepherds hear “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy…a Saviour has been born to you.”

Then and now, since the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God, is with us every moment of our lives, sharing our fears: Christ is for life, not just for Christmas. And that is Good News.

Nancy Gilmartin

Thinking about Advent 3 (Wednesday 8th December)

Bennochy Window
Bennochy Window

Singing with masks on, is still for many the most frustrating part of worship during the pandemic, and even more so at Christmas.

We sang on the first Sunday of Advent, “O come O come Emmanuel”. Although our tune is only 170 years old, the words are from the Old Testament and have been sung for more than a thousand years in the Christian community.

The words and music echo down over the years and seem to express how people long for the coming of a Messiah who will offer them something more in their lives, a different way of living. And, surprisingly maybe, many modern Christmas songs join in that longing for things to be different too. Slade sing “I wish it could be Christmas EVERY day?”

Band aid sing “Do they know it’s Christmas…feed the world…let them know it’s Christmas.” John Lennon sings “And so this is Christmas for weak and for strong, the rich and the poor ones…” And that most popular “Fairy Tale of New York” sings hopefully “So happy Christmas …I love you baby I can see a better time when all our dreams come true.”

Christmas music, it seems, ancient and modern, masked or unmasked, shares a timeless message for us of hope for a different, better future.

Nancy Gilmartin

Thinking about Advent 2 (Thursday 2nd December)

Modern view of Jerusalem
Modern view of Jerusalem

Luke Chapters 1&2; Mathew Chapter 2

The Christmas story never fails to surprise and challenge, no matter how often we hear it, it is not just “comfort and joy.”

For instance, many people in the first Christmas story are outsiders.

Mary and Joseph were eighty miles from home when Jesus was born. Why? “Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” And so, they were to be depending on the pity of strangers at the birth of their child, forced to travel to Bethlehem to register for tax purposes, by a Roman army of occupation.

Nobody expected them to be chosen to bring the Messiah to the world.

Elizabeth and Zechariah “were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. “To have no children at that time, was a disgrace, it was something shameful, a sign of being punished by God.

Nobody expected them to be the blessed by a miracle.

The shepherds, “living out in the fields”, because of their work which kept them away from home for a long period of time, were social outcasts: they could not attend synagogue or take part in any regular washing or worship rituals.

Nobody expected them to be chosen to be given -or deliver-any Good News.

The Wise Men were “Magi from the east” and so Gentiles: not just foreigners but not even Jews, and so regarded as pagans. No matter how rich or clever they might be they had no place in Jewish society: it was as if they did not really exist.

Nobody expected them to be among the first to recognise-and be included -in God’s plans for the world.

And sometimes, right now, we might feel we are outsiders, for many reasons. Are we outsiders because we are in a minority, by celebrating Christmas as a religious festival? So, we can perhaps take “comfort and joy” in being in the company of those outsiders of the first Christmas?

Nancy Gilmartin

Thinking about Advent: Matthew 1 (Monday 29th November)

Tree of Jesse window Glasgow Cathedral
Tree of Jesse window Glasgow Cathedral

V1 This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah…

v3: Judah was the father of the twins Perez and Zerah. TAMAR was their mother.

v5 Salmon was the father of Boaz. RAHAB was Boaz’s mother.

Boaz was the father of Obed. RUTH was Obed’s mother.

V 6 David was the father of Solomon. Solomon’s mother BATHSHEBA had been Uriah’s wife.

I suspect very few people might read this as part of the Christmas story, but it is part of Jesus’ story: a first century “Who do you think you are” moment perhaps.

According to the Torah, a child’s mother determines whether the child is Jewish. And among the ancestors of Jesus there are some surprises. And four surprising women.

Tamar’s father in law, Judah , made her pregnant with their twins, thinking she was a prostitute.

Rahab was another prostitute, only spared her life because she had helped Joshua’s spies to win the battle of Jericho.

Ruth only became Jewish when she left Moab to support her mother in law, Naomi. It is she who courts Boaz.

Bathsheba and David had an affair and David had Uriah effectively killed by placing him in the front line of battle, because Bathsheba was pregnant. However their first son dies.

These women being placed in this introduction, prepare us for the advent, the coming of a new kind of Messiah.

This is Jesus who saved the woman accused of adultery. This is Jesus who eats with sinners. This is Jesus who says of a woman anointing him that she will be remembered wherever the Gospel is preached. This is Jesus who takes time on the way to be crucified to comfort the women of Jerusalem. This is Jesus, the Messiah,whose message will change the world.

Read our Thoughts for June 2021 ...