The elderly man turns on the light, smiles at his dog, and greets the delivery person who has a package for him.
“English for beginners,” the man reads aloud with a heavy accent – it’s the title of the book that was in the package he just received. The dog watches him, wags its tail.
He makes tea, reads aloud and repeats the phrases he has read. He labels everything around the house with stickie notes, including the dog, who is now no longer wagging its tail, but instead trying to scratch off the stickie note label that reads: DOG.
He repeats again: “I am, you are, he/she/it is, they are…” He says it again.
Children overhear him through the open window. They laugh as he practices.
He names the utensils at the breakfast table, using their English words: fork, knife. He names his toast when it pops up from the toaster.
With his headphones on, he repeats the phrases from his tutorial: “I love you. You are perfect.” Except that he happens to be riding a public bus at the time, which leads to some surprise on the part of the woman sitting two seats ahead of him.
He and his little dog watch English-speaking movies, seemingly of the Godfather variety, which includes some salty language. Someone shoots a gun. The dog barks.
Later, the man repeats some of those salty phrases, to his rubber ducky, in the bathtub. But then he makes it up to the ducky with those well-practiced phrases: “I love you. You are perfect.”
Another package arrives from the delivery service, this time including things with English names he knows, now, and says as he takes them out and then begins to pack:
He delivers his little dog to a friend’s house, turns off his Christmas lights, practices his English phrases on the way to the airport.
And then he’s there. Right there, on the threshold. He hugs his son. And then he walks in and kneels down, and in his now well-practiced English, says to a shy little girl standing to the side in the hallway:
“Hi. I am your grandpa.”
Amy Jacobs shared that story, which, it turns out, is a Christmas advertisement, from Poland. And it’s an advertisement that I have yet to watch without weeping.
Choosing to be beginners isn’t something we do very often, once we become good at something. It’s hard to start again, especially when we’re used to being good at what we do. We like what is familiar, right? I do. We like knowing the things we know, knowing the people we know.
Beginning is hard. Learning something new is a challenge, no matter what. Getting to know different people can be awkward. We make mistakes. And we just might get embarrassed.
And this grandpa, this sweet, elderly, fluent Polish-speaking grandfather, is willing to go through all of that. Because he wants to meet his little granddaughter, yes, but more than that, I think he wants to know her. So he chooses to become a beginner again. He chooses to go through the awkwardness of learning a whole new language and going to a whole new place, so that he can go to her, and kneel down on the floor, and look her in the eye, and get to know her.
I never thought before seeing that advertisement about God becoming a beginner, for us. But he is, in the person of Jesus, on the occasion of the miracle we remember tonight.
Presumably, God the Holy Trinity, Three-in-One-One-in-Three, God who laid the foundations of the earth, God who separated the light from the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it, God who parted the Red Sea and led the People Israel through on dry land…presumably, our God is and always has been…good at what God does. God is, and forever has been, good at knowing what God knows.
So what does it say to us, that God comes to us on this night in the person of Jesus Christ as an infant? God comes to us a beginner at everything.
God comes into our midst, willing to go through the awkwardness of dependence, needing to cry in order to have his needs met. God comes to us and learns to speak and to walk. God learns what all beginners learn: that getting to know things and people can be hard, and painful, and good. In the person of Jesus, God learns what it is to live on this earth, entirely human and entirely divine.
The miracle of this night is our recognition that we’re not doing this all on our own. God comes to be with us – not speaking through a cloud or an angel, though God is really good at that, too – but no. God comes to us as one of us.
In the person of Jesus, God speaks to us with a voice we can understand. In the person of Jesus, God can come right across our threshold, and kneel down to look us in the eye, and say hello.
The miracle of this night is that God gives us God’s own self – a beginner, learning what it is to be with us, so that he can invite us into the miracle of being with him.
Welcome to the miracle, friends. Welcome to the miracle of God with us.