One of the great mysteries and wonders that we can be reflecting on this Advent season is the Incarnation: the mystery that the God of the universe would become a human, even a defenceless baby. To explore this mystery, Søren Kierkegaard tells the story of a king who loves a poor and humble girl and wants her to be lifted by his love, not always ashamed of the difference between them. Here is a slightly playful, poetic translation of the story. You can find fuller, more accurate renditions of it in abundance online, but they often leave out the playfulness of Kierkegaard’s style. So here is my offering, for what it is worth. May it give some food for thought this advent.
You ask me how God might be teacher and saviour; you ask how His love might drive Him to teach. You ask how His Love could love over vast distance as divides all low learners from this teacher of Love? Well, once upon a time, a king loved a maiden – No, wait! Is this kids’ stuff? A fairy tale? Where is the systematic doctrine? Don’t patronise with tales… Well, so thought old Athens, when Socrates spoke of food, and drink, and doctors, and trifles; I wish I could only speak of such trifles, for we all, from birth, understand food and drink (and the need to see doctors) and the high ways of kings are so often removed from the eating and drinking of mere men. But let us move on; we mustn’t get stuck. A king loved a maiden; let’s leave it like that. And this king, unlike poets, was not tied up tight with the “wisdom” that hampers clear-headedness; he loved that low maiden (this much we’ve seen), and he loved her without the High Rule of a king. His courtiers said, What a favour the king will bestow on the low one! These words made him sick. They drove him to fury; that wasn’t his love. He would love her, this maiden, such that she’d never see a high, lofty patron, a detached, distant king. Impossible! say the king’s courtiers. You are the king! Overshadow her with your king’s grandeur! Make her feel lowly! Unworthy! You’re king! How can Love straddle the high and low yet not overshadow the low into their grave? Love must become like the lowly it loves. The teacher must be like the student; the king must make Himself low like the maiden.
(Adapted and translated from Søren Kierkegaard, “God as Teacher and Saviour (Guden som Lærer og Frelser)”, from Philosophical Fragments (Philosophiske Smuler), http://sks.dk/ps/txt.xml)