Matthew 2:1-2 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him."
Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, which has been observed in the church at least since about the year 200, and by the 4th Century was regarded as one of the 3 great feasts of the church, along with Easter and Pentecost. First evidence of the celebration of Christmas does not come until 336, shortly after the Roman Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official religion, and was not widely observed until the 5th Century. Sometime after that, we get the custom of the 12 days of Christmas, which end on January 6, Epiphany.
So, why was Epiphany so important? Perhaps one of the biggest reasons, is that as the church grew, it did not take long, before the church changed from being mostly Jewish to mostly Gentile. And the one thing that we celebrate at Epiphany is Jesus savior of nations, that is, we see that Jesus is OUR savior; that the birth of the child of Bethlehem is good news of great joy for all people .
Well, maybe not for all people, Herod, and the scribes and priests of Jerusalem may be quite happy with things the way they are, and are rather resistant to change, otherwise we could have expected that some of them would have gone with the wisemen to Jerusalem. We know that Herod is greatly troubled, for he will be ordering the death of all the children near Jerusalem, so no one can take his place.
But there is an even greater reason why Epiphany is important, and the clue is seen in the words of the wisemen. "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him." - and here is the question - what has this little baby done, that is deserving of such worship and praise? Did the wisemen, seeing with the eyes of faith, look towards the things he would do in years to come, how he would suffer and die of our sins, and so free us from sin, death, and the devil? Perhaps, but there is something even more immediate, something in the present moment that is important and deserving of worship and praise - and that is the mystery and miracle of the incarnation - that the infinite and almighty God should take human form and be born a baby - why? In part, so that we could know he understands us, in part, so we could know he is approachable, and most important of all, so that he could take our place under the law, and fulfill the law, and thereby offer to us his righteousness, and forgive us all our sins.
Sometimes we make a big deal over going to church on Sunday - without ever explaining why it is a big deal - and many people believe it is something we must do in order to earn God's favor. However that really misses the point - we worship because God is worthy of our praise - and not to give God the praise he deserves is stealing. We worship, because not giving God the praise he deserves is unthinkable - that's why the wisemen travel - to worship - because not worshiping is unthinkable.
And this wasn't just some Jewish thing - when St Paul goes to Athens, he notices that the Greeks have a temple to an unknown god, because even the gentiles knew that god was worthy of worship and praise.
Why do we worship - certainly God is worthy of worship and praise, simply because he is, and he made us, and he gives to the wicked and the righteous their daily bread - but we have so much more - for we worship a Savior, who has given his blood to wash away all our sins, and give us peace with God and eternal life. To give it to us, not because we are children of Abraham and heirs of the promise - but simply because we also need the gift of salvation that God has given us in Jesus Christ our Lord, born to be our Savior.