Advent: Day 19
“Little Drummer Boy”
The last week of Advent traditionally focusses on the identity of the one coming to Bethlehem (He is ‘Wisdom, Lord, Root of Jesse, Key of David, etc’). In his coming, God gathers the world to behold. He sends angels to call the Shepherds (the ‘least’ in the kingdom of Israel) and a star to call the Magi (the ‘great’ among the nations). This child is for everyone!
A carol that has as its sole message that all are welcome is “The Little Drummer Boy.” Strangely, since the image comes from the 1800’s and before, it was written in 1941, by American classical music teacher Katherine Kennicott Davis. Historically, drummer boys were attached to military units to relay orders in battle by playing designated drum patterns. It was dangerous work and the boys therefore (obviously) did not come from happy circumstances. They were often poor and alone.
The carol envisages the Magi, coming with their wealthy gifts, inviting the little drummer boy to come with them. When he reaches the Christ-child he sees the Magi have brought their “finest gifts” to the “newborn king.” He is at a loss: “I have no gift to bring … that’s fit to give our king.” He offers the only thing he has. “May I play for you … on my drum?” At Mary’s nod he goes ahead and, as he plays, he sees that the baby “smiled at me … and my drum.” It is so heartwarming and welcoming. It emphasizes the totally open invitation we have from God. Come!
There are no conditions attached. There is no test to pass. There is no payment required. Except, perhaps one. The drummer boy is very clear: “I played my best for him.” “Best,” is not a thing. It cannot be weighed or quantified in any human way. It is not compared or tested against anyone else. It is not based on money, or success, or appearance, or any other measure we can devise. But it is at the very heart of a right understanding of God’s free and open welcome to every one of us. “Come as you are,” does not equal “come without thought, or care, or respect.”
Scripture gives us four characteristics of acceptable worship: it must be “in Spirit and in Truth,” (John 4:24) and it must be “with reverence and awe” (Heb 12:28). They are entirely attainable by every human being who is willing. Together these constitute offering ourselves “as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God,” which is our “spiritual worship.” (Rom 12:1). From the very beginning anything but the best was not acceptable to God (Lev 22:20). The widow who made a small offering at the temple (Luke 21:1-4) was not praised by Jesus for her poverty, or her shabby clothes, or her wrinkles. She was praised because her worship – she “put in all she had to live on” (v 4) – was a total abandonment of herself to the mercy and goodness of God. The rich could have done the same, but they were not willing.
I have come to the conclusion that there is only one reason why I hesitate to come with total abandonment to God. My vision of him is too small. I do not see the baby in the manger properly. My eyes are dimmed. My imagination is too limited. It matters to “come,” but I come, “a new born king to see.” It matters that I see, and I must see that this king is like no other. If I can perceive reality aright and correctly see who is lying in the manger, then I will also perceive why it is absurd not to offer myself completely and without reservation to him.
“O Lord, in your mercy, give me clear eyes and an expanded imagination to behold my king!”
In His grace
Image: 'The Promise' by Renata Fucikova