When Majesty Stooped: Princess Diana and the Incarnation

On the English Royal Symbol of What Christ’s Life Meant to People and for the World

Sam Bush / 1.11.21

Have you ever met someone famous? How did it go? Were you nervous or were you too enthralled to be self-conscious? Did the cat catch your tongue or did you keep your wits about you and make a good impression? Encountering a celebrity on the street can strangely feel like a divine revelation. As we’ve mentioned before, the cult of celebrity has become a mainline religion, but it’s an especially interesting topic this time of year as we reflect on the incarnation. What does it mean that God came down and lived among us? And how does that affect our actual lives?

Being given access to a celebrity, the kind that allows you to connect as two human beings, rarely ever happens. I once had the pleasure of meeting the front-man of a beloved indie band who told a remarkable story about opening for the Rolling Stones at Slane Castle in Ireland. After looking forward to rubbing elbows with Mick and Keith he was disappointed when, just moments before their own set, the Stones flew in on four separate private helicopters, ascended the stage for a raucous set of greatest hits and then promptly left just as they had come. My friend, of course, was disappointed. When he eventually spoke to the Stones’ manager, he politely confessed that he had at least expected to meet the band. “Oh,” the manager replied, as if something clearly hadn’t been communicated. “I’m sorry, but that never would have happened.” In other words, the Stones were not inclined to condescend.

You have to appreciate the manager’s honesty. A god submitting himself to meet a lowly human? Never! The price of celebrity is often to deny one’s mortal state. Celebrities tend to remain so exalted because their deity can’t afford to be sullied by their humanity. In other words, gods can’t be normal. To risk unveiling their actual, true selves is to risk losing their otherworldly appearance. They remain god-like by virtue of their curated otherness.

Encounters with celebrities only go well when the two parties, both Prince and Pauper, are on equal footing. Either the Pauper knows his God-given status is enough for him to go toe-to-toe with the Prince, or the Prince willingly gives up his prestige. Given society’s habit to be star-struck, our hope is almost always on the latter. The Prince must condescend.

If you were of age in the 1990s (or if you’ve watched Season Four of The Crown), the name that most likely comes to mind is Princess Diana. The Princess of Wales, we now know, had plenty of her own troubles and was not a perfect person. And yet, as we consider what made her so universally appealing, one can see how she became a symbol of what Christ’s life meant to people and for the world.

In The Crown, Diana is adored for being beautiful, accessible, modern, and warm. She is the exact opposite of the rest of the royal family, who believe that the monarchy’s job is to be an aloof constant, removed from the hoi polloi of the common people in order to offer the symbolic stability of a state figurehead. The queen’s role is intentionally idealized. The hope it brings is the idea that somewhere in the world there is a hint of divine order. Yet, all of its power would be compromised if the queen condescended to the lower levels of humanity. And so she sits and watches the world go by, hoping that by doing so she remains the one by whom people set their clocks.

Not Diana. Her surface level charm is hardly what made her such a profound figure. Other celebrities and officials have done charitable work and expressed profound compassion, but royalty is a cut above the rest because it’s believed to be ordained by God. As Fleming Rutledge describes it, “In the Princess of Wales, majesty stooped. That was the key to her power.” Here the future Defender of the Faith is seen laying down her defenses when visiting New York City and hugging AIDS patients in an otherwise forgotten hospital in Harlem. Her embrace is not staged, but real. She forgoes every iota of her power for the sake of the downtrodden. It is an extremely profound scene. Moreover, its depiction of Diana has been backed up by those who witnessed her generous, heartfelt compassion firsthand.

Of course, there is a difference between a symbol and the thing itself. While celebrities may condescend to our level every now and then, Jesus is the only true way that gives both Prince and Pauper equal footing. In Jesus, we find the One “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be clutched at, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” (Phil 2:6-7). Yes, Jesus is the friend of sinners, but let’s not forget the crown that he forfeited in order for that to happen in the first place. The depth of his love came at the cost of his majesty.

Indeed, the very God whose royalty and power strike our hearts with fear and trembling is the same God who meets us in our humanity and has compassion on the downtrodden. In Christ, God laid aside his princely prerogatives in order that he may be with you in your own mundane reality. While you may have reached for the stars only to crash and burn, he has reached down to you to give what you could never have attained otherwise — the crown of life.

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2 responses to “When Majesty Stooped: Princess Diana and the Incarnation”

  1. CJ says:

    Love this, Sam. I once met a celeb whose work I had long admired. It was like looking at the sun. I could only glance at her indirectly for fear of being blinded. That was the feeling anyway. Great work here, and great season of The Crown—I found it excruciating!!

  2. Kristen says:

    Really enjoyed these thoughts, Sam. (Also, what a photo!)

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