Valentine’s Day, Transfiguration and Les Miserables

Mark 9:2–3 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, [3] and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.

I know my memory is not the best anymore but I don’t remember Valentine’s Day ever falling on Transfiguration Sunday before. Is there a connection between the two?

Valentines is about love. Transfiguration is about transfiguration. It sounds trite but love is the most transformative power in the world. Love can transform a person instantly just as Jesus was transfigured on the mountain.

This is perhaps best described in I John 4:7-11:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. [8] Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. [9] In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. [10] In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. [11] Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

In the classic novel Les Miserables, written by Victor Hugo, the life of Jean Valjean is transformed by love. When he gets out of prison for stealing bread to feed his sister’s children, he is destitute and no one will help him. This is in France in the 1800’s. There are no social programs like we have today.

Finally a priest welcomes him to his home and feeds him. In return for the priest’s kindness his steals a bunch of silver dishes from the priest but he is caught. When the police bring him back to the priest’s house, to everyone’s surprise the priest insists that he gave the dishes to Jean Valjean.

The priest’s actions are quite similar to the love that God shows to us. Because of his love for us he provides for all our physical needs. Then when we steal from him, when we break his commandments and disobey him, he shows his love for us by setting us free from our sins. He does this for the sake of Jesus Christ who gave his life for us on the cross to pay for our sins.

After the priest tells the police that he gave the silver to Jean Valjean, he goes over to his fireplace mantel and takes down two silver candlesticks and gives them to Jean Valjean and says, “Here, you forgot these.”

The kindness and love of the priest totally transforms Jean Valjean. He uses the silver that the priest gave him to start a factory in a small town. The factory does very well and Jean Valjean becomes a wealthy man.

But the story doesn’t end there. In return for the kindness that the priest showed him, Jean Valjean adopts an orphan girls and transforms her life.

But the story doesn’t end there. All throughout the story Jean Valjean is pursued by Inspector Javert. Inspector Javert does not believe in the power of love. He doesn’t believe people can ever change. He believes once a criminal always a criminal and he is determined to put Jean Valjean back in prison.

Towards the end of the story Jean Valjean is given the opportunity to kill Inspector Javert, the man who has been hounding him all his life. Instead of killing him, Jean Valjean sets him free.

This is more than Inspector Javert can handle. He can’t believe someone would do such a thing. It causes him to lose his mind.

This story, to me, sums up the way people respond to God’s love. Because of his great love for us God sent his Son, Jesus, to die for us on the cross and rise again from the dead.

Some people receive that love and it totally transforms them. They look for opportunities to show that love to others. Just as Jesus was glowing on the Mount of Transfiguration, some people are aglow with the love of God.

But sadly, for other people they can’t handle this kind of love. They are so caught up in the law and good works that they cannot accept God’s forgiving love. God’s forgiving love causes them to lose their minds.

This was certainly the case of the Pharisees who constantly hounded Jesus. Jesus describes their attitude with the following parable:

[9] He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: [10] “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. [11] The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. [12] I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ [13] But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ [14] I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

I hope and pray that God’s love has transformed your life, that it has not destroyed your life. As a pastor I am sent by God to be like the priest in Les Miserables. I am here to tell you that God does not wish to press charges against you for your many sins. He wants to set you free from all your sins so that your are free to love others.

And Jean Valjean never sells the candlesticks that the priest gave him. He keeps them with him wherever he goes to remind him of the priest’s love. Whatever house he lives in he always sets them up in a prominent place.

God has given us a constant reminder of his love in Holy Communion. He invites us to come and receive the body and blood of Jesus regularly to reminds us of his transforming love.

So there is, in my mind, a definite connection between Valentine’s Day and Transfiguration. God’s love for us in Christ transforms us, makes us aglow with love for others.

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