Rediscovery is always a delight when found as an old, quirky friend, a freshly washed bill in the dryer or, for me last Christmas, lyrics to the holiday classic “The Little Drummer Boy.” As I listened to a popular a cappella group sing this familiar story, their unique rendition clearly revealed its message: a young boy earnestly beats his drum in praise of a new baby King. I couldn’t help myself; I ugly-cried.
I could see the Magi usher this boy into a barn, cold at its rough-hewn edges but ever warmer as he timidly enters the hay-strewn stall where the few precious sounds of new life reach his ears – suckling, cooing, a mama’s whispers of wonder and comfort. He peeks into the manger, and his wide eyes find a baby blinking back. His small frame jerks as he realizes the flesh of his Daddy’s promise has arrived, and he solemnly reaches for his drumsticks.
Perhaps the boy freezes for a moment until the nudge of a wise man jolts him to begin. Breathing deeply, eyes and fists tightly clenched, he softly starts a halting rhythm. As other older men lay their gifts at Mary and Joseph’s feet, the little drummer finds courage. In the small room, faint roll swells to thunder. Without restraint, the boy drums with all his might until his tired arms fall aside. He opens one eye and then the other, shy once more; all the barn waits for what would come next.
What does God do? He smiles.
It still gets me every.single.time. The meekness of the boy, the power of heaven wrapped in the fresh skin of a newborn baby. It is all so….vulnerable. Humble. Insufficient. I could hardly grasp it, until recently I received in my stocking a rudely wrapped coin from a small towhead boy – all that he had – and saw deep devotion in his cobalt eyes staring up at me.
Where I so often wrestle before God in vain throes to justify myself, where I seek to bring him something perfectly packaged – a song, a prayer, a kind word, a list of intentions, a check – God waits for me to enjoy him.
God is delighted most by those who, like little children having nothing else, offer their gifts in the purest ways, uncontrived, handmade, wholehearted. It is the simplicity of the little drummer’s offering that reveals his humble heart for the One he loves, and it is his humble heart that prompts the pleasure of the Only.
It is right here, in coming Christmas, that we celebrate the birth of our atonement and the promise that a contrite and broken heart is enough. Even as Jesus’ parents purchased two doves for a penny at the temple to dedicate their firstborn son, he was recognized as “[God’s] salvation…a light to Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel…a sign that would be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” (Luke 2:30-25)
For those who would believe, a sacrifice of doves is exchanged for the sacrifice of devotion to the One who has come to satisfy the righteous requirements of the law on our behalf. Love births mercy; mercy births praise. The little drummer boy and Mary and Joseph and all the saints have received this greatest gift of Christmas: a son of Love who creates the profound possibility to enter the presence of God and a joy that cannot be expressed by words but only unrestrained worship.
“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do what is good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Hebrews 13:15-16)