“Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden.” So began the story once told by the Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard. For in his tale, the king was the most powerful man of his time, one with the strength to crush any who opposed him. This mighty king had but one chink in his armor, however: he was deeply in love with a humble maiden, one with no family pedigree, education or standing in the royal court.
Why he should love her was, in Kierkegaard’s telling, “beyond explaining.” But love her he did. The problem became thus how could he act upon his feelings, given his position and power? His royal courtiers told him, of course, that all he had to do was command her to be his queen and it would be so. For she would surely not resist him—no one dared to do so. But while he could force her to be present in his palace, the king knew that he could not force love to be present in her heart. So would she truly love him in return?
To be sure, she might say that she did, for again, who could defy that mighty king? But would she really? Or would she simply subject herself to his power, live with him in fear, but secretly bear a grudge for the life she had been forced to leave behind? Would she even be happy by his side? And how could he ever know for certain that she was? For the king did not want a conquered consort but one who equally shared his love; “it is only in love,” Kierkegaard noted, “that the unequal can be made equal.”
And so unable to elevate the maiden without destroying her freedom, that king made a rather momentous decision: he would be the one to descend to her status instead. He arose, took off his crown, relinquished his scepter, and took upon himself the life of a peasant, not just posing as one but actually becoming such.
Clothing himself in a tattered cloak as a beggar, the king thus went to her cottage not in disguise but in a new identity, renouncing his throne to win her hand. Or in the words of the writer, that king thus became “as ragged as the one he loved so that she could be his forever. It was the only way. His raggedness became the very signature of his presence.”
And the point which Kierkegaard made in his parable is the very one which the apostle Paul long before expressed when he wrote to the Philippians about the One who “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Indeed, the Incarnation is nothing less than the story of a great King who left His throne and descended to this earth in order to win our hearts as well.
And just suppose He did it all for us.