Reflections on Les Miserables and Advent

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

I sat in the seat of the movie theatre, at times moved to tears, at times watching in horror, and still at other times, rejoicing in victory as people overcame hate and forgave.

Ever since I knew the story, Les Miserables has been my favorite. Favorite movie, favorite story, favorite novel. There are few things as beautiful as the story of Jean Valjean and his redemption, the way that he was bought for good, and afterward, the way that he bought others for good and redeemed people lost in death. Particularly, my favorite scene from the book and the movie is the scene in which Jean Valjean, knowing that Marius will only take Cosette from him and leave him without his only companion, chooses to save Marius in any way he can. He has no choice but to drag Marius through the sewers of France; Marius, who cannot do anything to save himself, Jean Valjean using his waning strength to help Marius, even though it only causes him later pain, even though there is nothing in it for him. Helping Marius holds no advantage for Valjean; instead, it’s the source of more pain. But he does it because he loves Cosette, and places her interests above his own. Sacrifice.

For one to enact justice on another, one must be held to the same standard of measure. Javert, believing that justice was the highest good, essentially had to die. Because he had been in the clutches of death, and had been set free and given what he didn’t deserve, the mercy that he was shown had no place in his world of justice, retribution, and exact penalty. The penalty that he deserved as a double-agent caught red-handed had to be fulfilled in exact measure, and if Valjean wouldn’t be the one to live justly, Javert would have to follow through with the punishment himself.

But Valjean’s refusal to live justly is what is so beautiful. Valjean’s refusal to kill Javert when given the chance, knowing Javert will hunt him down until the end, is mercy at its finest. What do justice and mercy have in common? This is a question that we wrestled with in one of my classes at college near the end of the semester. What is the relationship? Is it a balance? I’ll be wrestling with it next semester too, as I take a class of which the sole subject is Justice.

There are many more subplots in the novel that are equally astonishing. Read it.

In years past, I’ve often wondered, Why all the hype up until Christmas, and then it’s over in 30 minutes? It’s seemed like a deflated balloon afterward; like all the gift-giving and celebration wasn’t worth much. This year my perspective changed a bit.

It’s the first year that I’ve been introduced to the observation of Advent; the weeks leading up to Christmas not so much as fun times to talk about jingle bells and reindeer, but rather a time to quietly, reverently remember what actually happened at Christmas. All the waiting, the 400 silent years. The people of Israel bent under Roman rule. The yearning for one to come save, for a liberator, for a healer. They were caught in death, sorrow was what they knew. Maybe not even sorrow, but the day-to-day, seemingly meaningless grind under the oppression of another empire. Please, send the Messiah. Send the One we’ve been waiting for. We’re tired. Weary. Hard-pressed. We need Him to save us. 

It reminds me of Valjean sitting in the church at the end of his life…weeping with remembrance of a life of pain, suffering, heartache, praying to God, I’m tired. 

God on high,
Hear my prayer.
Take me now
To Thy care,
Where You are.
Let me be,
Take me now.
Take me there,
Bring me Home,
Bring me Home.
Thanks be to God, but He came to us in our need, in our pain, suffering, heartache. That is the good news of Christmas. That is the story of the gospel. The world is an awful place. So much bloodshed and so many horrors. Thanks be to God that he entered into that. A friend of mine painted the word picture of the Son looking at the world; seeing all the death, sickness, pride, sin, and darkness, the world of orange and black and gaseous fumes, spinning wildly, and saying to the Father, Let me go there. That is the story of Christmas. A story in which the joy doesn’t end after the presents are opened; rather, the celebration begins on Christmas day.
“Because of the tender mercy of our God with which the Sunrise from on high shall visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.” Luke 1:78
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