One of the most heartbreaking, gripping, and inspiring story of all time is the story of Les Misérables. Last night, I was listening to the 10th anniversary soundtrack on my way home from work and was so engrossed that I passed my street and didn’t realize it until I entered an unfamiliar part of the neighborhood.
The character Javert has always stirred my heart, often bringing tears of sorrow. The song Stars is such a powerful and sobering musical creation. It expresses his purpose in life: finding all of his power and meaning in keeping the law and punishing those who break it.
But he’s so blind. He’s so deeply rooted in the law that when he experiences grace at the hand of the criminal he’s been chasing for over 20 years, it shatters his entire worldview. His entire reason for existences is stripped away. He’s so completely broken that he can no longer go on living. His story ends tragically when he takes his own life.
The criminal, Val Jean, says these words to Javert at their final meeting:
You are wrong and always have been wrong. I’m a man, no worse than any man.
It was a long and difficult road for Val Jean, but these words reveal that this criminal has somehow come to understand the grace he has received. At the beginning of the story, when Val Jean is released from prison, he says bitterly:
I know the meaning of those 19 years a slave of the law.
He’s tasted the sting of the law and came to hate it. He has yet to face the brutal reality of his own sinfulness. It’s only when he’s caught stealing from the only person who’s helped him that he begins to realize how dirty and underserving of mercy he really is.
It isn’t until years later, when Val Jean is willing to put his own life at risk to rescue the man his adopted daughter loves, that he understands the love of God and is able to show mercy to Javert when he is given the opportunity to end Javert’s life and bring his years of living as a fugitive to an end.
But Val Jean has tasted God’s grace. He has seen the bitter results of his own hate. He would rather live imprisoned by the law and free in grace before a loving and merciful heavenly father, than physically free and breaking God’s law by murdering Javert.
Both men keep the law. One does so out of love. One does so out of self-righteous hate.
We all have criminals in our lives. We’re Javert chasing a fugitive or Val Jean running from his past. Maybe we’re both. The ability to receive and extend grace isn’t something we can conjure up with our own efforts. It breaks into our lives the way it broke into Val Jean’s when he was facing a death sentence but a humble priest rescued him—by telling a lie.
This story is irrational, but so is the story of a virgin with a supernatural pregnancy. It doesn’t make sense that the prince of the universe would be born in a barn to parents who lived below the poverty line.
This Christmas season, let’s look around at the stories that don’t make sense. Let’s acknowledge the irrational and illogical relationships. Let’s take a break from chasing our fugitives or running from our crimes. Let’s praise God for an inexplicable grace that breaks stony hearts and shatters worldviews.
And just for kicks, listen to the Les Misérables soundtrack or add the 2012 film to your Christmas movie watch list.
Years ago, I did a Christmas blog series on Les Misérables. You can start reading it here.