One of my favourite stories of concealed identity hiding in plain sight is from Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, Les Miserables, where the escaped convict, Jean Valjean, is pursued for years by now retired Inspector Javert. As it turns out Jean Valjean, who had changed his name to M. Madeleine has now become a successful business man and the Mayor of Toulon. Javert arrives in Toulon and is immediately recognised by Valjean. But Javert does not recognise the now clean-shaven, genteel aristocratic Mayor of Toulon as his nemesis. But when he observes the compassion of M. Madeleine he recalls the time in prison when Jean Valjean had also displayed a similar extraordinary compassion for unfortunate fellow prisoners. The more he observed such acts of kindness and generosity from M. Madeleine the more Javert became convinced of the true identity of Madeleine. There is something about this idea of concealed identity that comes from the story of Christ. The prophet Isaiah foretold that when the Servant of the LORD would appear He would be largely unrecognised – there would be no form, no beauty, that we would desire Him (Isa. 53:2). But how on earth was this possible? How in God’s Name could those who were created by Him in His image not recognise Him for who He was? The answer to this great puzzle lies in one word: the kenosis.
The grace and the truth expressed in the classic Christmas Carols brings great joy to this preacher who strives to produce biblically and theologically informed followers of Christ. It’s one the reasons why this preacher also serves as a gate-keeper over the songs that use at Legana because I know that most of my sermons are long forgotten soon after they are preached yet what we sing on a Sunday rings in our hearts for years to come. This is no doubt why singing, music, hymns, has always been integral to Christian worship (Eph. 5:19). The consolation that us forgettable preachers have though is that most good song-writers were, and are, biblically/theologically informed by faithful preachers. May the magnitude of what we sing this Advent grip our hearts, enlighten our souls and fill us each with joy inexpressible. Merry Christmas.