illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
Sometimes, it is considered that the Buddha or some of his best disciples like Sāriputta must have had merit, to attain the wisdom they attained. It is considered that people who met the Buddha 26 centuries ago must have had merit too… and, as a corollary, maybe we haven't much merit (and maybe we had not enough merit to meet the Buddha then, or maybe we even met him but had not enough merit to 'get it'…).
From such perspectives, one easily starts seeing the "later days of the Dharma" as a negative, when the Dharma gets gradually corrupted and forgotten and misunderstood, and when only beings with little merit are still around…
And yet, without falling for delusional self-based views, without falling for ignorant perspectives of inherent separation between the Buddha or Sāriputta and ourselves, we have a share of the merit they had!
We participated in training them, mothering them, taking care of them, or taking care of others who took care of them… We too participated in creating a world where they could arise! [Whether you see this participation as 'actual' past lives, or as appropriation here and now of 'narratives' about the 'past', is irrelevant.]
Buddha-nature is sometimes seen as we all have the potential to become buddhas, or even —within the "original enlightenment" doctrine— we all have a buddha within us already and all it takes is to uncover it (from under the many layers of ignorant views that obscure it).
But one way to look at it is that your nature is what allowed a buddha to arise in the first place! It's not just a potential (future) or within you (present), it's in the past too. It's as if you planted, in the narrated past, seeds to teach you now, about how to behave appropriately going forward. Hence the instruction of "paying attention": the lessons are there, life is your teacher, you planted the seeds already and now they've matured, you only have to see the lessons and learn!
So no, you don't live in some degenerate age; you live at the time of harvest.
image: a rare pale green jade figure of Buddha (19th c.), recently auctioned.