Romans 5:6 "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly."
We are creatures trapped by time. Time is the hidden framework for our universe, the basic foundation for all that we know and understand. As much as we may dream of escaping it, of moving back or forth within it or making it move slower or faster, or even to stand still, we cannot change it, not in the least. We live in time, moving at its established pace, ever onward, and there is nothing we can do to change it.
"At just the right time," Paul tells us, Jesus broke into history, to live for us and die for us. Christ, being divine, transcends time and history, yet he condescended to be a part of history, to live amongst us for a moment in the sea of time, to live a life in this temporal world we share. We accept this, but we rarely ask the obvious question: why that given window in time? Why was Jesus not born into our world earlier (or later, for that matter)? Have you ever considered that question?
Why didn't Jesus appear right after the sin of Adam and Eve? That certainly could have saved the world a lot of trouble. Or why not right before Noah, to divert the sinful population of the world from catastrophe? Why not in the days after Noah, or perhaps in the time of the Patriarchs, as God was establishing his chosen people? Why not when the Israelites were in bondage in Egypt? Why did God send Moses when he could have sent the Son himself?
Why didn't Jesus appear as the people were populating the Promised Land, or in the time of the Judges, or before David, or after? Why not in the days of the bad kings, when the people were in such desperate need of moral leadership? Why not during the exile in Babylon, one of the lowest points for the people of Israel? Why not upon their return? Jumping ahead, why didn't Jesus appear in the days of the Maccabees, that window of Jewish independence? Why was he not born 100 years before he was, or 50, or even 10? Or why not 10 years later,or 50, or 100?
Instead of every other possibility, God chose this particular window of time in the middle of the life of the Roman Empire to break into history. As someone fascinated by the ancient world, the question has fascinated me for years: why was Jesus brought into the world precisely when he was? It's easy to say, "In order to fulfill the words of the prophets," but let's be honest, if God had wanted the Advent to occur at a different time or in a different way, he would have simply given the prophets different prophecies.
We can speculate as much as we'd like, but in the final analysis all we can say is that God did this in his own good time. His timing is beyond our questioning or understanding, and it alone is perfect. God deals with us through history, and so Jesus Christ had to come into our lives via a window in that same history, but as to why the time and place that was chosen, only God can ever know.
God has made us creatures of time, living in a universe built on time as we know it. Theoretically, God could have created something else, a framework which didn't depend on time as we understand it. But since he did create time for us, he also uses it as part of his revelation. He reveals himself through history in the story of salvation --in other words, salvation history. It is a history that isn't finished yet. It will find completeness in a new creation governed entirely by God, with evil finally defeated. When God broke into our human history in the person of Jesus, he gave us a foretaste of that future, and indeed allowed us to experience it and to live within it even in this imperfect world. Christ conquered time itself to bring us the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:15, “The time has come,” [Jesus] said. “The kingdom of God has come near."). It is a Kingdom that does not yet exist in our reality, but has always existed and will always exist in God's reality. As Pannenberg puts it, we witness through God a "permanent present," because the Godhead transcends time, and through a relation with the divine, so can we.
What does all this mean for us? First, it means that we believe in a God who cares so deeply for us that he was willing to break into history in order to save us. But that event was not simply an event that happened once in first century Palestine. It happens anew again and again and again, every time a new believer accepts Christ into their heart and soul. Despite death and time and generations apart, we all live as part of that permanent present in the presence of the Son of God.
But it also is a reminder that not only did Christ break into history, on a human and physical scale, once in the midst of time, but that he will do so again. At an hour we least expect, he will enter our human history again. For the God of history, the God of the universe, is also the God our our lives and of our souls. And just as he entered history once to see us face to face, he is coming once more, to do so yet again.