“In the time of Herod king of Judea”, Jesus the Savior was born (Luke 1:5).
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world…” (Luke 2:1)
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar – when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene – during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas…”
“…the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.” (Luke 3:1-2)
While the world went about its business, God was at work.
He was at work on His plan to save the world, a plan He had from the very beginning (Genesis 3:15, 12:2-3) and which had long been foretold (Isaiah 7:14, Micah 5:2, Malachi 3:1-2).
It was an urgent plan but slow to unfold, a desperate plan but sure to succeed:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Jesus grew, as any ordinary man, but then He went about patiently healing people of their diseases and delivering them from their demons and bringing them back from the dead. And He went on to save them (and us!) from sin and from the death that is forever, by suffering and dying on the Cross in their place and then rising again to life.
It’s in this larger context that we remember Jesus’ miraculous virgin birth.
Out in the desert, John the Baptist preached “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Luke 3:3) He called people to be honest with themselves about their sin, to be sorry for it, to turn away from it. He also pointed them to Jesus Christ, the one who came to save them:
“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
It’s in this context that God calls us to repent, in the light of His plan and of His pre-existing, overarching sacrificial love and mercy. Forgiveness in Jesus is once and forever, but repenting is a day by day process of turning away from sin and turning to Him for the promised healing and restoration.
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)
He came to save us!
This wondrous gift, this message of divine grace, is what opens us up to repentance, what calls us out to new life in Jesus, and what prepares our hearts for His return.