Despair.com has a poster which reads, “Despair: It always gets darkest just before it fades to pitch black.” Too many people live without hope, going from one dark event to another. I wonder if that is how the Jews felt in the time just before Jesus' birth?
They had been a privileged people, one of the only groups allowed to self-rule, to self-tax and to be free from military service in the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar had granted these rights because Judaism was older than Rome itself. But then came Octavius who instituted a census, which was to occur every 14 years, and it did for the next 2 centuries. So what's the big deal about a census? Ancient Empires took censuses in order to tax or to conscript.
This simple event was a signal to the Jewish people that their favored status was in the process of being revoked and that they, like everyone else, were nothing more than a conquered, subjugated people. Simply having Romans in the land would have seemed pretty dark, but having them prepare to tax and conscript would have felt like pitch black. It would be a return to slavery, a proverbial return to Egypt.
But in this dark situation, as Luke proceeds in his nativity narrative, the angels appear and announce the Good News! A Savior, a Messiah, a Lord has been born, and with His coming, favor was being restored.
Contrary to the Despair.com assertion, it wasn't darkest just before it faded to pitch black. It was darkest just before "The Light of the World" dispelled the night!
"When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).
"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people" (Luke 2:1-10).