If we lived in Judea during the time of Jesus’ birth, we’d have felt little hope. Syrian successors to Alexander had imposed Greek culture on our Jewish people, including holding games with naked athletes in Jerusalem. Antiocus IV in 168 B.C. slaughtered a pig on a pagan altar in our sacred temple. Although the Maccabean brothers led a successful guerilla rebellion (166 to 143 B.C.), after a brief period of freedom, the Roman general Titus marched into our capital Jerusalem in 63 B.C.
As Jews, we’d have been ruled until recently by Herod I, a ruthless tyrant. His title, “King of the Jews,” belied his part-Idumean heritage and fooled nobody. Because he knew when he died he would lack mourners, he instructed his lieutenants, upon his death, to execute many leading Jewish citizens. In 4 B.C., around the time of Jesus’s birth, all Jerusalem mourned.
If we lived when Jesus was born, we’d also have to wait nearly 30 years until he heals the sick, cleanses lepers, restores the lame, and raises the dead. So where is the hope of Christmas? In Jesus, God enters history to meet our deepest need. But have you noticed how, to develop his plans, God takes his time?