The second bracelet, the work of Christmas
In Gioacchino Rossini’s operatic version of Cinderella, “La Cenerentola,” it is a bracelet rather than a glass slipper that Cinderella leaves behind at the ball. As she disappears into the night, Cinderella gives this bracelet to the prince while keeping a second, identical bracelet for herself. She tells the prince he must find the first bracelet’s match by finding her where she lives, before she will consent to marry him.
Why did Cinderella demand such a test of the prince, who on that very night was prepared to ask for her hand in marriage? Because she knew that the lovely mystery woman the prince met at the ball did not provide a complete picture of who she was—literally, a woman of ashes who took orders and endured insults for a living.
“Tonight,” she explains to the prince as she gives him the first bracelet, “I am decked in beautiful things—everyone is raving about me. But come and find me where I live; come and find me at home. Then, if you still like me when you see me there, I will marry you.”
We could say that Christmas is analogous to that magical night at the ball. There’s something of a dreamy quality to our contemporary depictions of Jesus’ birth, an atmosphere which seems to compel shepherds, magi, livestock, and people like you and me to behold the beauty of it all in wonder and admiration. We find there a Jesus “decked in beautiful things,” with everyone adoring him.
If we leave the ballroom, and follow Jesus further into the gospel story, we will discover that there is more to his person than swirling angels and swaddling cloths. It is as though at Christmas we have been given the first bracelet; to find the second will require our seeking Jesus “where he lives”—going forward in the gospels to observe his teaching, healing, prophesying, serving life, as well as his abandonment, suffering, death, and resurrection.
To mark the end of the Christmas season we will gather this evening for an Intergenerational Epiphany Celebration (5:30 to 6:15 p.m. on the church lawn) and meet online tomorrow (Thursday at 7 p.m. on Zoom) to chalk our doorways as a sign of our readiness to follow Christ beyond Christmas and into the world of a new year with courage and compassion. When we gather tonight we will share a classic Howard Thurman poem, “The Work of Christmas,” printed below, which speaks to the church’s quest to join the second bracelet with the first. I look forward to sharing that quest with you.
Grace and peace.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among the people,
To make music in the heart.