The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:24–25)
We know about the shepherds keeping watch by night, and then the magi from the east who came to Jerusalem. We know about the innkeeper who told Mary and Joseph there wasn’t any room, and we know about Herod’s malicious edict to kill the male babies of Bethlehem.
But then there’s the little drummer boy, the fictitious character of the popular Christmas song first recorded in 1955. This drummer is, of course, not in the biblical story, but his presence has become legendary in our modern Christmas imagination. And we can learn from him.
So the Song Goes
At a casual listen, though, the song is so simple, and clouded with so many pa-rum-pa-pum-pums, that it’s not immediately obvious what’s going on.
The song opens, as the drummer boy narrates, with the magi recruiting him to join their journey to see Jesus. “Come, they [the magi] told me . . . a newborn King to see . . . our finest gifts to bring.”
Apparently, the drummer boy agrees to come along, and the lyrics fast-forward to him gathered around the young Jesus, acknowledging his poverty, admitting he has no gift to bring that’s really fit for a king. But he does have this drum. And so he asks, “Shall I play for you?” To which Mary nods her approval, and then the drummer boy plays, and plays his best. Then Jesus smiles. Pa rum pa pum pum — which is clearly French for felix navidad.
Me and My Drum
At this point, even though we know this isn’t historical, we know it could have happened. In fact, in different forms, this sort of scenario has played over and over for thousands of years. Worshipers of Jesus (like the magi) compel their neighbors (like the drummer boy) to consider Jesus — to come and see him, as it were. And when the neighbors do, if they would believe, a moment happens when they realize their bankruptcy is exposed. They see Jesus and comprehend his glory, and then they look at themselves: But I am broken. I am empty and poor. I’ve got nothing to bring this King that even comes close to representing the honor that is due him. All I have is this drum.
It starts this way for all of us, you see. I was that little drummer boy, and so were you. Before we can be the magi inviting others to come along, we’re the ones who feel completely inadequate, and in one sense, we always will. If we would see Jesus, and understand his significance, we can’t help but sense our own frailty. All we have is this drum. What in the world could ever be enough for this King? We’ve just got this drum, so we ask, do you want that? Do you want this stupid drum? And he says, Yes, bring your nothing, play the drum.
And so we play it for him, and we play our best for him, declaring that we are small, that we are weak, that he doesn’t need us in the least, but that with all that we are, with every little speck of nothing we have, we are giving it to him. To him.
We know that this King has no lack, that he doesn’t need anything, but that we, because of him, are absolutely, completely, wonderfully his. Me and my drum — all his.
Desiring God has partnered with Shane & Shane’s The Worship Initiative to write short meditations for more than one hundred popular worship songs and hymns. The Worship Initiative is an online platform devoted to training musicians for worship leading and songwriting. “Little Drummer Boy” is off their new album, A Worship Initiative Christmas, which is now available through iTunes.