Friday, December 17, 2010

The Little Drummer Boy

Though nothing will ever, ever pass "O Holy Night" on my list of favorite Christmas songs (aside from perhaps Handel's Messiah, is there a more stirring, moving song, anywhere?), "The Little Drummer Boy" is a close second for me.

Perhaps because I am somewhat prone to feelings of smallness or inadequacy, the story of a little boy with nothing but a drum has always resonated with me. Here is this young man, brought before, not just a king, but the king, told to bring his "finest gifts". He feels that he has no gift fit for such a recipient--he is poor and young and has nothing. Nothing but a drum. And its not a piano or a harp or a flute, or some other instrument we generally associate with reverent or worshipful music--nope, this guy is carrying around a snare. And yet he plays his best, offering the only thing he has to give, with all his heart. And then the Christ smiles at him. That's a beautiful, moving story.

It is sometimes easier to recognize other people's gifts than it is to see the value in our own. But the Lord knows us, through and through, inside and out. He knows our capacities, potential, and our limitations. He knows, even better than we do, exactly what we have to offer. Even the simplest gift, no matter how inadequate it may seem to us, is pleasing to him so long as it is offered with a sincere desire to serve and "honor him". We can sit there worrying about how we look next to others with their gifts of gold and expensive ointments, or we can stand confidently and "play [our] best for him". If we do that, I do believe that He smiles at us--that he is pleased and grateful for our efforts. If the Lord is pleased with the gifts we offer, our pride should not stand in the way of us being pleased with them ourselves. He values the devotion and efforts of the girl quietly scribbling in a notebook in the corner just as much as he values the gregarious fellow who's always putting together the best programs and parties.

No one, not even the most righteous and talented and blessed among us, will ever come close to repaying even a fraction of the gift we all were given: "Unto a us a child is born; unto us a son is given. . ." That's what we celebrate. That's why we buy presents and make cookies and decorate trees. Because the Father gave his son, and the son gave his life. Without that, every other gift would be meaningless. With it, every faithful effort is sanctified. In the shadow of the Ultimate Gift, every other gift seems so small. But by faithful exercise of our agency and gifts, we very slowly (line upon line, precept upon precept), work towards eternal exaltation, and a chance to bless countless lives further, to bestow gifts of eternal value. We each have to start somewhere, even if we're too poor and inexperienced to offer anything but a pleasant beat on our little drum.

One of my favorite renditions of this particular song:

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