The Christmas season is in full swing, and the full-on assault of Christmas music has begun. So, it is no surprise, when today I found myself thinking about the story of the Little Drummer Boy. Of course, his story is fiction, but I think it’s a beautiful legend.
I imagine him, about nine or ten. He’s dirty and his life is hard. His family barely survives by herding sheep or goats. But he has this drum. It’s battered and nicked, and probably homemade. I imagine him something like David. He learned to play out of boredom sitting in the fields.
He hears about the Messiah’s birth . He hears the grown-ups talk in hushed tones and he feels the quickened heartbeat of the longing Jewish nation. This baby is the king. He is going to save his people. The boy thinks about this long and hard, and his heart is moved. This king should be honored. Thank you, for what you will do, his heart sings. Thank you for the hope you bring to our people. Thank you. We have been waiting for you. And we are so grateful you have come.
He decides that this king should have a gift. But what has he to give a king? He looks around at his tiny collection of things. A rock? A game to play with pebbles and sticks? He is embarrassed. No, none of that will do. Then, he thinks of his little drum. He shrugs. I can offer that, he thinks.
So he packs a few figs and some cold meat and sets out on foot. For days, he travels to the nativity, drumming the whole way. He drums through the desert, practicing his beats. He drums through the hills, playing his song. His feet swell and his biscuits are cold, but his resolve stays strong. He drums down the long dusty road into Bethlehem. The Messiah has brought hope to our people. I must go to him and honor him.
When he arrives, he is not alone. Wise men bring expensive gifts worth more than the little boy will ever see in his lifetime. He feels intimidated, but he doesn’t let that stop him. He thinks of his mother, whose step is lightened by the Messiah’s coming. He thinks of the people in the village who now laugh deeper and quicker. He thinks of the people in his temple who are just a bit nicer and a bit more giving. He thinks of his own life just a little bit easier, a little bit lighter. The Messiah has finally come. He must say thanks to this child. For what he has done and what he will do.
Joseph and Mary look at this bedraggled boy wondering who he is and why he has come. Being of humble means themselves, they relate a little more to him than the wise men. But, it is a stable and they have just gone through an excruciating ordeal.
Mary is exhausted and wrestling with ideas of motherhood and marriage, while wondering if she’s technically still a virgin. She had always been a simple girl, but her pregnancy had turned even her friends against her and she had been feeling very much alone lately. All she had was Joseph. But he was her father’s age, and the relationship scared her. She didn’t understand men, and the way he looked at her sometimes made her insides freeze with fear. She knew what a wife’s duty was and she saw the expectation in his eyes and she felt helpless against it. She could barely even speak to him. She missed her mother.
Joseph was still in shock. It had taken way too long to find a midwife, and even then she didn’t speak Hebrew. Then Mary bled too much and now she’s not doing well. Now, how is he going to get them home and then keep them all fed? There’s only so much carpentry work in Nazareth. Besides, Mary wasn’t a woman. She was a girl playing wife. He knew he was too harsh with her sometimes, and he knew he was killing her inside. But, life was hard and he needed a strong woman to help carry the burden. Right now, it was clear she didn’t have what it took. He felt very alone in a foreign country, responsible for two children.
And then it is the drummer boy’s turn. He takes a deep breath and unleashes everything he has. Everything he has rehearsed in the desert. His heart breaks with the passion of knowing that this was the moment he was born for. Barump-ump-ump-um.
Joseph and Mary sit in the stable, their eyes welling with tears, as they release all the tension, all the emotion of the last several days. Barump-ump-ump-um…As the drumbeat rises, Joseph and Mary lean their heads back and just let the music heal their souls. Heal their bodies. And for a moment it is well.
The drum rises to a final crescendo, and Mary falls on her face, and weeps as she babbles prayer in Hebrew. And Joseph takes her hand and says nothing, for it is not good for strong Jewish men to feel. But inside his heart is breaking. All the doubt, suspicion and fear between them, and all the shame heaped upon them, begins to fade and they are one.
I have no gift fit to give a king…And the baby Jesus smiles. But don’t you see? But don’t you see who you are? And finally the drummer boy stops. He nods his head, and says a simple goodbye and promptly leaves the stable. It is done. He has given all he has to the new king. And his heart swells knowing he has said his piece to the Messiah.
I think the little drummer boy is an excellent picture of every Christian artist. We have a talent, an art, and it is all we have to offer him. We have no gift fit to give a king. We have nothing that Christ wants, other than ourselves. I believe God is so pleased when we humbly offer what we have to him. Like the baby in the story, he sees our hears as we pour them out, in the talent he gave us to begin with.
I also believe that when we offer our art in its purity and integrity, we have no idea what he will do with it. We must be obedient to our calling as artists, and let God take care of the rest. It may do something we had never imagined.