When I was a kid I remember “The Little Drummer Boy” being one of my favorite Christmas carols – if not the favorite. I loved the drumming, I loved that it was about a fellow little kid… What’s not to love? So this Christmas I enjoy my own children’s enthusiasm for the song. It’s a keeper.
Yesterday, though, during a 20-minute walk up the neighborhood bike path, I was listening to Faith Hill’s rendition of the carol on my iPod and found myself in the middle of a transcendent moment. There I was, speed-walking along with cars zipping up the highway on the far side of the fence, and the tears were just streaming down my face.
Suddenly I saw my own four-year old’s face as that of the little drumer boy. Here’s this young kid being invited to participate in the event of a lifetime – visiting the new baby Jesus. Does he want to come? Of course he does! And I see the can’t-sit-still enthusiasm in my own son when he finds out we’re about to do something fun. Can we go right now, this second? Where are my shoes? A kid’s capacity for anticipation and eager joy are matchless.
But just as quickly – uh-oh. Problem. Everyone’s bringing fancy presents for this special baby. Everyone’s wrapping up the nicest stuff they have. But what can I give? Oh no! The kid’s crestfallen, deflated. I can see the despair in my own son’s face that he can’t join in, that it won’t work. He’s wracking his brain and trying not to cry at the same time.
Then he thinks of something. He has a drum and knows how to play. Maybe, even though he doesn’t have a present to bring, he can play on his drum! Is that a stupid idea? What will the baby’s mom think? He musters up his courage and asks, and the mom says yes. So the boy starts to play. And I’ve always thought of him as being a masterful drummer, a child prodigy, but who knows? Maybe the drumer boy is a young child like my son, just four years old and a beginning drummer (at best). Maybe his music isn’t beautiful to anyone’s ears except his own – but man, does he loves to beat on that drum. Maybe he looks just like my son whacking away on his plastic drum, or even his cookie tin (which he likes just as much), but joyful… Oh, so joyful. Wailing on the little drum with all his might for the baby Jesus. “I played my best for Him!”
And then the boy stops drumming and looks around – at the people and the baby – to see how his act of devotion was received. Was it ok? And as he hopefully surveys the baby’s face he sees… a smile. The baby liked it. Hallelujah! Relief and joy wash over him. And I see my own son’s face as he smiles back at his three-month old baby sister, exclaiming jubilantly, “Mom, she smiled at me!”
For is anything better than a baby’s beaming smile? It’s sunshine and pure love rolled into one; it’s magic.
And it’s here that my own tears well up as I consider how truly remarkable our God is. That He calls out in us our meagre and simple offerings – not much but the best we have – and, as we willingly give them, He receives them gladly. Not just receives them but relishes them. Smiles at us through them. Affirms us; loves us; makes us whole. The drummer boy’s journey, in a few short verses, from enthusisam to fear to boldness to – at last – happy fullness in the delight of Jesus is breathtaking. Surely He exalts the humble, even as He humbled Himself. And all the more do I love this Savior who loves and accepts my own son so, in all his childishnss. “Let the little children come to me,” He says – and He means it. Oh does He mean it.
And a postscript… I love that all this happens, as it always does with God, because of the boy’s lack. What if the drummer boy had had a gift to set before the King? Well then he would have missed out on an experience – on the Love – of a lifetime. Because it’s always in our lack, in our emptiness, that the fullness of God is to be found. How focal this must be for us today, December 2009, as the Wal-Mart ad tells us we can “give them a Christmas as big as their imagination” at affordable prices. “NO!” I want to yell at the TV set (and, as my husband can attest, sometimes do.) Don’t rob us all of the experience of the Christ child by piling arms high with presents! Dear God, give us all eyes to see that sham for what it is and to trade the trivial for the transcendent. Spare our drummer boys, oh God, from gaining the world but losing their souls. Instead help us, Lord, to do all we can to help our own drummer boys (and girls) encounter You, the smiling Christ child, this Christmas.