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Suppose There Was a King Who Loved a Maiden?

Soren Kiekegaard’s Parable of the King and the Humble Maiden is ever in order, never more so than at Christmas.

“Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden,” he begins.

The problem with such love, of course, is that it must bridge a wide gap, for what can be further apart than the power and authority of the king and the obedience owed by a simple subject of the realm? Could she ever not “remember what the king wished only to forget, that he was king and she had been a humble maiden?” Can they possibly understand one another, can he possibly communicate the purity of his intentions, their minds being so different? What glory can there be to such a “love (so-called), filled as it is with such sorrow and frustration?

What to do?! Well, the king might elevate the maiden, which she might find perfectly “enchanting” (life in a castle, after all), but would she realize that love is his motive? Would her fascination with her new surroundings not prove to be as strong a barrier to love as the differences imposed by the happenstance of birth?

Or the king could ride into her village in all the royal pomp and circumstance that belongs to a king? Such razzle-dazzle would sweep her off her feet and she might “forget herself in worshipful admiration,” but that could hardly satisfy the king “who desired not his own glorification but hers.” Would not love be lost in the attendant trappings? For the king, how does the love of his heart compete with the power of his office, and for the maiden, how is love for another even born, much less recognized, when it comes with the fine raiment with which he clothes her? Is it him or the elevation of her office that captures her heart?

“Who grasps this contradiction of sorrow: not to reveal oneself is the death of love, to reveal oneself is the death of the beloved?”

There is but one choice, then: the union requires a descent, the king must appear in the likeness of the humble, meaning the likeness of the servant, for who is more humble than a servant. “For this is the unfathomable nature of love, that it desires equality with the beloved,” equality to the point of experiencing the very life of the maiden for in no other way will she ever understand his love.

“Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden.”

Such is Christmas, the story of a King who loved enough to become a Servant and speak of love in a language we can understand and recognize for what it really is … the true desire of the One for the other.

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