Before He could ascend to Heaven, Christ’s descension had to come first:
But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore, it says: “He ascended on high and took prisoners captive; he gave gifts to men.” What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended into the lower (regions) of the earth? The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. -Ephesians 4:7-10, NAB
We often spend a great deal of time speaking about Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension to Heaven because it made salvation available to all of us, but that could not have happened if Christ had not descended first. Christ’s gift to us, then, did not begin at the foot of the cross; it began in that tiny manger in Bethlehem where He humbled Himself to become man.
Christ was with God in the beginning, as we learn in John 1:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. -John 1:1-2, NAB
So as Christ ascended to Heaven, He was simply returning to where He had come from.
But what is so great about Christ’s descension? Does it hold the same meaning as when He ascended? Yes. The all-powerful, all-knowing God, through His love for us, humbled Himself to become man. He gave up ultimate power to accept complete frailty, if only for a time.
Christ lived just like us. He understood what it meant to work hard for a living, the sorrow of losing a loved one, the pains of hunger, the struggles of temptation, and all of the joys and sorrows that this life can bring. He held nothing back – accepting both the best and worst of what humanity had to offer.
As we spend time reflecting on the graces God gave us through the cross, let’s stop to reflect on where it all began: Christ’s descension. The road to our salvation began in a tiny manger, half a world away, and we should always be thankful that God humbled Himself in this way.