Everybody loves the classic Christmas carol “The Little Drummer Boy.” But I’ll admit I’ve never really listened to the words and the story that this song tells until very recently. If you’ve never read the lyrics, I recommend it.
This carol tells the story of a little boy who was invited to go see a newborn king and bring his “finest gifts” to lay before that king “so to honor him…when we come.” When he gets to the stable, there’s probably some shock when he sees this “newborn king” wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. To some, this would be a scene of disappointment; “for real? What kind of king is this?” Maybe they’d walk away, disbelieving the things they had heard about this baby.
But not the drummer boy. Instead, he approaches the manger keenly aware of his own poverty; “I am a poor boy, too.” For a moment, it seems his poverty leaves him with nothing to give, with no gift that’s “fit to give our king.” So, in a moment of desperation, he asks Mary’s permission and begins to offer his only gift: his drum.
“I played my drum for him…I played my best for him…Then he smiled at me…me and my drum.”
In the midst of his prayer of praise in 1 Chronicles 29, David says, “Lord God, in the simplicity of my heart, I have gladly offered you everything.” All over the New Testament, Jesus affirms that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the children, since they are pure and simple of heart. The little drummer boy looks at the newborn king and doesn’t feel disappointed or see merely a poor, helpless infant; he sees the king. Maybe he doesn’t see the splendor and glory with his eyes, but with the eyes of faith and in the simplicity of his heart he recognizes the king before him and gladly offers him everything he has to give: his little talent on his drum.
Jesus doesn’t ask us to save the world and be the absolute best at everything we do. He asks us to be simple, he asks us to be humble, and he asks us to lay everything down at his feet. Conformation to Christ does not mean experiencing levitation or Spirit-filled ecstasy. Conformation to Christ means embracing our smallness, recognizing everything as a gift, and returning those gifts with gratitude and simplicity of heart to the king. We all have talents and attributes that make us “us”, and to become most fully ourselves, we must listen for and hear the invitation to come before the king, and to play for him. The goal is not to put on a huge production and make a scene, but to look into the eyes of Christ as he smiles at us and gives us the strength to gladly offer him everything.
This Christmas, let’s be drummers. Let’s make sound and leave our mark but for no other reason than to honor the king who is born to us this day. Let’s watch for Mary’s nod and, with her support, play our best for the Prince of Peace. In the sight of Jesus, small and humble in the manger, let’s play; and when we walk away may we be able to say, with David, “Lord God, in the simplicity of my heart, I have gladly offered you everything.”
May the peace of promise of Christmas fill every heart with joy.