People are not all that pleasant.
Okay, that may not sound like an epiphany. And, certainly not a church-y one. But bear with me here.
I think we often think that people are pleasant. Or at least, that people can or should be pleasant. We are fairly sure we are pleasant - great conversationalists with correct opinions and kind hearts. It's just that other people aren't as enlightened, or loving. And some of them are downright rude, like the ones that don't know how to merge on the Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne bridges, or the Crosstown Expressway. They are unpleasant. Not us.
We think that our lives would be pleasant, if we just had a little more time or a little more money or if those darn telemarketers would just stop calling, or any number of other things. That's all we need. Then things would be pleasant. So we go about focussing on getting those things - the things we need. Absolutely sure that once we have those things, everything will be pleasant.
And so, when we hear that God came down on Christmas to dwell with us, we think, "Of course. God was lonely up in heaven, so Jesus came down to join our pleasant company here on earth." It's a cozy, Christmas-y sentiment, the perfect accompaniment to presents opened by a roaring fire in the fireplace.
Except that Christmas isn't supposed be cozy - it's supposed to be shocking.
For centuries, the idea that God would come down to dwell among us was shocking. Because life was not pleasant. Even today, in places of war, or among the homeless, or those who live on less than $2 per day, life is not pleasant. That's what Jesus came down to join. Not a holiday cocktail party with fancy clothes and genteel conversation. Jesus came down as part of an ethnic and religious minority, among people who were poor and oppressed. He came to show them that he loved them just as they were. Not because they were pleasant, but because they were the children of God.
This is my epiphany of Epiphany this year.
Epiphany, of course, is the day, and the season, when we celebrate and mark Jesus's life among us on earth. We read about his visitation by the wise people from the East, his baptism, his growing up and his ministry. Epiphany in one sense means any manifestation of God, and our season after Epiphany is filled with them.
But epiphany also means a sudden insight into the essential meaning of something. And this is my insight: God wasn't looking for something pleasant. God was looking for us, in all the messy imperfect realities of our lives.
God left heaven, which is beyond the realms of pleasant, to be with us. Not because we are pleasant. But because God loves us.
God came to earth as a baby. Not because babies can change the world and make everything pleasant. But because the only thing babies can do is love. (Well, love and eat, but that doesn't usually end pleasantly, either).
This Epiphany, what would our lives look like if we stopped expecting everything to be pleasant, and accepted that we are loved by God, just as we are? That God loves the poor, the oppressed, the different, the awkward, and the unpleasant. Because God doesn't expect us to be perfect, or even pleasant. God had that in heaven. God left that to show us how to love.