Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!
—Bishop Myriel, Les Misérables
Victor Hugo was honored in 1862, when a room full of dignitaries from statesman to scientists applauded him as a champion of republicanism. Much to Hugo’s surprise, his book was accruing worldwide momentum toward becoming a historical, philosophical, and religious phenomenon.
Jean Valjean, the central character of the epic saga, was based largely on Hugo’s deep inner burden for the condemned man and time Hugo himself had invested into the lives of convicts, even right until the hour of their execution.
This month, beloved Hugo characters like Valjean are reborn with the release of the Tom Hooper film on Christmas Day, quite apropos considering the central character Valjean is a man with a past in need of redemption. Valjean’s freedom, having been purchased with silver, accepts the redemption through no intrinsic merit of his own, dies to his past, adopts a new name and life, and transitions from a world of darkness and oppression into a new kind of future when he himself becomes redemption’s instrument.
Valjean’s journey, while compelling to both believers and non-believers, is the complete antithesis of what the world would have us believe of Christmas today. The world indoctrinates our children that they’d better not so much as pout and had better be good for goodness’ sake or else they won’t earn any Christmas gifts when Santa comes to town.
This is not the story of Jean Valjean. This is not the Jesus of Bethlehem or Calvary. This is not Christmas. For, the real gift of Christmas has actually nothing at all to do with merit. It is not deserved at all. It cannot be earned.
To every person born on this earth, whether soldier, spy, scientist, statesman, or scholar, the crisis of accepting the true gift of Christmas, eternal life by means of a childlike belief strategy, is so simple that the logic of it takes many of the faithless on a cyclical journey only to arrive at the same manger once again. Without faith, the crisis cycle repeats annually just as sure as the inevitable visit of every family’s Cousin Eddie.
Everyone wants to believe in something, so much so that the word believe seems to ring in the December night air as clear as a Salvation Army bell. People buy ornaments that tell their friends they believe. Parents have the annual bedroom discussion about belief, concerned for a child’s innocence that perhaps the first Christmas devoid of belief potentially might not be like all the ones before.
Dear Reader, don’t mistake my truth for cynicism when I point out that, contrary to the sugar-coated Christmas magic, belief in the redemption of man by the Christ of Christmas penetrates the emptiest cupboards in a way no Santa ever could. It penetrates the emptiest lives. Clinging to the truth of Christmas is vitally important for God’s people.
For believers, the well-timed release of Les Mis on Christmas day is more than the rebirth of Hugo’s belief system. In his life he was no stranger to the coup d’état of government devoid of diplomacy, personal tragedy, and exile; yet, in spite of being wildly successful, he held but one dying wish: to be buried in the coffin of a pauper. Wish granted.
Two million patriots and Francophiles paid their respects to Hugo underneath the Arc de Triomphe. The hero had met the One True Redeemer following a lifetime of writing about historical, social, moral, philosophical, and religious issues of the world. “It is not easy to keep silent, when silence is a lie,” His famous words still prick at hearts of men, not necessarily just the angry ones.
This month, Les Mis fans worldwide will celebrate Hugo’s work on Christ’s birthday. Just like our favorite Christmas carols, we know the adapted Les Mis lyrics and melodies by heart with all of the original intonations. We are the Jean Valjeans, the redeemed. We press on to do good works, not to earn the gift of grace, but because of grace. To all who would receive Him, the Redeemer has come. We sing redemption’s song; the music of a people who will not be slaves again. Sing loud. Sing proud. Sing joy to the world!
Read Brandi’s column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette newspaper. Follow Brandi on Twitter @BrandiChambless