I am a poor boy too…
One of my least favorite Christmas songs for the majority of my life has been “The Little Drummer Boy”. I can’t really explain why. Maybe the constant ‘parumpumpumpum’ing got on my nerves. I never really like the Rankin and Bass animated short because, even by its standards when made in 1968, it still looked cheap. But as I grow older Christmas has come to mean many different things for me, as it should for everyone. Obviously each year I write a lot about it. I find that there are few other times that inspiration strikes as strongly. Maybe Halloween. Maybe Summer. Alright, maybe I just love Christmas.
But recently I was listening to what has become my favorite rendition of “The Little Drummer Boy” by Josh Groban from his CD Noel. Something about the fullness of that version (probably the bagpipes) just lit me up and I couldn’t help but get teary eyed. And I think it was because that had been the first time I really truly listened to the lyrics. And I don’t mean listen as in heard them, I’ve had the words memorized since I was six, but I mean this is the first time the words really landed and had an impact of me, now some twenty years later.
Regardless of what you believe I think it’s still possible to let yourself be affected and even changed by the simple, relatable nature of different belief systems. I may not classify myself as a Buddhist or a Taoist, but I have read and studied them a great deal and allowed them to resonate with and affect me. At Christmastime, there tend to be three camps of folks who discuss “the true meaning of Christmas”.
- Far right/ extreme Christians who feel it’s only about Jesus’ birthday and celebrating anything other than that is wrong and sinful and if you want a TV for Christmas you’re selfish and if you sit down to Hanukah dinner with your neighbor you’re running the risk of blasphemy and also Santa is a rearranged anagram for his true identity: S A T A N.
- Cynics and “rationalists” who think Religion, and Christianity in particular, is stupid and that Linus’ speech in A Charlie Brown Christmas is preachy because Christmas is actually and amalgamation of traditions stolen from the Pagan Holiday celebration Yule so you should feel stupid for believing in magic or miracles and grateful to them for believing in reason and science and making your better by posting photos from the “I F*cking Love Science” Facebook page explaining away silly beliefs and informing you that Neil DeGrasse Tyson is, in fact, God’s true secret identity.
- People who just like to be happy and want others to be happy and do their own thing so they’re pretty chill about whatever goes on during the Holidays.
I like to think I fall into the third camp. But we’re all familiar with the other two and probably want to beat our heads against a wall when the Holidays come around.
The point to that mini rant is to explain the perspective that, hey, it’s Christmas, so let’s just relax. You can find value in all walks of life and all belief systems. So long as no one gets hurt, you do you BooBoo. You don’t even have to believe Jesus was a real guy to be affected by his story or by the story of those who came to celebrate his birth. History suggests a lot of contrary things about the birth of Jesus, mostly that he probably wasn’t even born in the Winter. But the nature of embellished stories can still inspire people to feel something deep and poignant, and sometimes even blatant fiction is the best driving force to get people to do something good for their fellow man. And that is the story that goes along with the The Little Drummer Boy.
Nowhere in the Bible is there any mention of a kid with a drum. But as the song goes, the little drummer boy hears of Jesus’ birth and decides he will go see the child and celebrate his birth because the rumor is he’s going to grow up to be someone pretty special.
Let’s let the little drummer boy’s story speak for itself through the song’s lyrics.
Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,
So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.
Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,
Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?
Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,
Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.
I spent that brief moment above justifying that it’s okay to believe whatever you want because I’m asking you to let yourself be affected by the real heart of this song. It’s going to require some of you going with me on a hypothetical journey, but I find life is a lot easier and certainly a lot more beautiful and rewarding when we do.
If you’d heard the news that the savior of all mankind had been born and all your friends were tugging at your arm saying, “Come on! Come on! We have to go see him!” What would you do? Would you drop everything you were doing and go? Or would you balk and think, “But I haven’t a gift to bring that fit to give a King.”
A lot of the time, regardless of belief, our human nature has us telling ourselves we’re not worthy. We get self conscious and scared and second guess who we are, how we’ll look, what we’ll do or say; especially at times like Christmas, when expectations seem so high.
It might seem surprising but I really don’t like getting gifts. Christmas, Birthday, whatever it is, I really feel strange when someone gives me something. I have trouble receiving them because I immediately think to myself, “Oh no! What will I get this person in return?” And it’s a terribly selfish way to act since most of the time we give things without expecting anything in return. That’s the true nature of giving. I also clam up because I’m not terribly clever at coming up with what tangible gifts to get people. I measure my ability to give in the time spent with people. Good conversation, enjoying food and drinks together, laughing, singing, joking, whatever it may be. That’s my favorite type of giving and receiving; simply spending time with the ones you love.
And so the little drummer boy had the same dilemma. What do you give to the baby who has everything? He is the son of God after all, what could he possibly need? And if you go empty handed you run the risk of looking foolish standing next to three wise men who’ve brought along frankincense, myrrh, and even gold. Better not to go then. Better not run the risk of embarrassing yourself and embarrassing God by not bringing his son something he deserves. You’re just a poor boy with a drum and tattered clothes. Surely you are a disgrace in the presence of the Lord.
Most of us wouldn’t go. It’s like feeling like you can’t go to church because you don’t own any nice, expensive, or fancy clothes. It’s not taking a chance because you’re afraid of failure and embarrassment under the judging eye of someone or something “Holy”. But the most important thing to remember is that God is not human. God doesn’t wear ties or suits, dresses or skirts. God doesn’t collect physical possessions and has no use for them. So why on earth would we think that what we offer up as our gift to God should be something tangible? It isn’t to say it’s wrong. The idea is that you simply give from your heart, the best way you can. You give openly and freely because you love God, not because you are afraid of him. So many cultures used to, and still do, offer up animal sacrifices to him. But God doesn’t want bloodshed. God wants your love. God just wants you, whoever that person may be; man, woman, or child, straight, gay, or transgender. If you’re giving from the heart, no gift is too big or too small. We are all equal in the eyes of God.
But the little drummer boy remembered, “I do have something! I have my drum! I’ll play for him on my drum!”
And so he traveled far, a dangerous journey for such a young kid, in order to reach the child everyone had been talking about. And he stood quietly behind all those who came to praise the baby. They laid down their gifts for him, some extravagant, some small and meager, and finally, when all eyes turned to the little drummer boy he stood there in silence, holding his drum.
“Little baby,” He said as he approached the young Jesus, not worrying himself with many of the judgmental eyes that were on him. The whispering voices could easily be heard. Some thought he was cute, others felt he sullied the Lord with his presence. But, much as children do, the baby Jesus had no need for judgment. Neither did his parents Joseph and Mary. They had both come from immense poverty and traveled a journey similar to the drummer boy’s.
“I am a poor boy too.” The drummer boy said as he observed Jesus’ tattered and plain surroundings. He was born in a barn! The drummer boy thought the son of God would’ve been born on a golden throne, in a castle, surrounded by servants, money, and feasting. But here he was, surrounded by farm animals, lying in a pile of hay. It brought a strange joy to him as he spoke.
“I have no gifts to bring.” The drummer said timidly, looking from Jesus to his parents. “But…” he stammered. “Shall I play for you? On my drum?”
Mary nodded. And he played. The little drummer boy played his best for the baby Jesus because it was all he knew how to do. He had no money, hardly any clothes, and certainly not much respect in the eyes of the elite, but he did have a little drum. And he could play it well.
And as he played, something amazing happened. The baby Jesus, the son of God, God himself even, smiled at him. He smiled at the little drummer boy and at his drum because this gift had been more than enough to give. His talent, something given from the heart, was worth more than anything else he could’ve given, more than all the riches on earth.
And many years later, that baby who grew into a great Rabbi would impart the same lesson to his disciples, the lesson taught to him by a poor, honest, worthy little drummer boy.
“Jesus sat down near the collection box in the
Temple and watched as the
crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a
poor widow came and dropped in two small coins.
Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.’” Mark 12:41-44
Christmas, whether or not the story of Jesus’ birth seems relevant to you, is about giving. Not just giving in the hopes of appeasing or giving out of obligation, but giving from the heart. Any gift given from the heart is a worthy gift, and any person not willing to recognize that a gift they receive, although meager, coming from their givers heart is a person who is not worthy to receive such a special gift. It doesn’t mean they can’t be worthy, but it means their focus is on receiving only tangible things, things that, if they were to burn to the ground, would be gone forever. As that little baby would one day go on to say:
"Don't store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” – Matthew 6:19-21
Gifts that come from the heart cannot fade. Even if they are physical items, the spirit within them will never die. Even if a photograph is lost, a painting is destroyed, or a house is toppled, the spirit lives forever. The little drummer boy is proof of that.