Christmas is the time for experiencing the formative work of descent. We sing, “Love came down at Christmas.” It is the hymnodic way of declaring with John that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). Christ’s “coming down” was a descent into oneness, and his incarnation is a model for a similar descent in our lives
Descent is where we find commonality. Thinking of it linguistically, descent is living as nouns without adjectives. Descent is shedding all the modifiers which so easily separates us from each other. For the cosmic, universal Christ the singular noun is ‘flesh.’ Christmas is the revelation of Christ’s descent into oneness with everyone of us. The singular noun is ‘human.’
We manifest the descent into oneness as we live into the second great commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). We typically and correctly interpret this through the word ‘love,’ and ponder the depth and breadth of our love for others. Indeed, “Love came down at Christmas,” and love is the essence of our oneness with God and with everyone and everything else.
But the lens of affection is not the end of the interpretation. The commandment is also about identification, and that comes through in the words ‘as yourself.’ To love others as ourselves is to recognize our oneness with them. Buddhists call this ‘interbeing’—that is, the awareness that at the base we literally share a common existence. Reality is oneness. Illusion is separateness.
Jesus brought this reality into Christianity in the words ‘as yourself.’ Affection and identification come together. Love and oneness are conjoined. St. Paul described the same reality, “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Meister Eckhart put it this way, “what happens to another, whether it be a joy or a sorrow, happens to me.”
Dorothy Day experienced this oneness during her first time in jail. She wrote, “I was no longer myself… I was no longer a young girl, part of a radical movement seeking justice for those oppressed. I was the oppressed. I was that drug addict, screaming and tossing in her cell, beating her head against the wall. I was that shoplifter who for rebellion was sentenced to solitary.”
Martin Luther King Jr. spoke similarly, “The self cannot be self without other selves. . . . All life is interrelated. All people are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
These affirmations of faith are paralleled in the cosmos through quantum entanglement–that is, the interconnectedness of all things. The revelation is that there is one Life, and we share in it in our life together. When we think otherwise we fall prey to pride which manifests itself as superiority, partisanship, exclusion, power/control, greed, and violence. Christmas is God’s annual invitation to become Christlike and “come down” into oneness.
This oneness was effected by Christ, who broke down the dividing wall and reconciled everyone into a new common humanity (Ephesians 2:14). As a result, we no longer see or support separatism, choosing rather to live “as one” with others. Just as Christ descended into oneness with us in the incarnation. We descend into oneness as we love our neighbors as ourselves. Love not only came down that first Christmas day, it comes down whenever we descend into oneness as siblings in the human family.