Little Drummer Boy has long been my favourite Christmas carol. But why? It doesn’t have the melodic qualities of some of the more traditional carols, nor the reminder of love or Christmas cheer, nor even an obviously profound message. However, though it may be more subtle than most, the message of Little Drummer Boy, and the story it portrays, is indeed profoundly beautiful.
First, we have the song’s namesake, the little drummer boy. This small boy has dared to make the journey, though he is of no significant lineage, to stand before the newborn King of Israel. I can only imagine how it must have felt, coming before this long-awaited Saviour. This baby would grow to change the course of history, and the entire world, and make a way for humankind to enter into the presence of God. He was no small deal. Yet our little drummer boy refused to let the magnitude of this person and situation deter him from being presented before the King.
As the rich, successful wise men laid their luxurious gifts at the feet of baby Jesus, I imagine that there would have been a sense of humiliation or even shame felt by the boy. He had dared to make the journey, but as a poor boy, had come empty handed. What could he possibly give that would be of any value to a mighty king?
When it comes his turn to present a gift to the baby, he humbly admits that he has nothing to offer that is fitting for a king. Instead, he hopefully offers his prized talent, the only thing he can give.
Mary nods, and in honour that he should be there in front of his saviour, he plays with all of his heart, and all of his passion and skill, and all of his strength – holding nothing back. And in return, the baby-King smiled at him and his livelihood. In all their outward splendour, Jesus could not care less for the expensive, impersonal gifts of the rich. It was the sincere gift from a truly humbled heart that Jesus responded to.
Then, of course, there is baby Jesus. The poor, weak, vulnerable infant, lying in an animal feed tray. Jesus, the Lord of all creation, the King over all, our sovereign ruler – humbled and weak. And what’s more; He willingly chose to be this. The circumstances of His birth – humiliation, trial, rejection, vulnerability – were mirrored in the life He lived out, even in His death. He voluntarily put Himself through it all for our sake; to pave the way back to relationship with God.
The one simple line, “I am a poor boy too”, is an incredibly powerful reminder. It echoes the sentiment of Hebrews 4:17-18 – that we do not have a God who cannot sympathise with us in any situation.
In my own life, I am much like the little drummer boy, trying to figure out how I, in all my unworthiness, rebellion and lack, could possibly stand before such a magnificent, righteous, glorious God. This has been a constant struggle for me in my walk; trying to relate and come into the presence of my God who is so far above me, and who is so pure and holy while I am so, so not. Adding to the tension is the fact that He and I both know exactly how impure I am.
The interplay between the poor drummer boy and the poor baby Jesus reminds me that while this once was the case for humans – the constant tension of how to try and approach God – it is no more. With the coming of Jesus, and with His death and resurrection, we no longer have to wrestle with these feelings of inadequacy before God. Though we are still inadequate, Jesus now stands as the doorway between an impure humanity and a holy God. He lived subjected to all the pain, anger, torment, hunger, humiliation, dejection and evil that we ourselves face in this world. Not only did He mentally suffer from it, but He was dealt the full physical brunt of it so that he might reconcile us to God.
The song reminds me that not only has Jesus enabled us the ability to approach God, but He has filled in the gap between human emotion, trial, and trivial needs and desires, and an almighty, all-sufficient God. Anything that I face, any pain I feel or damage I’ve been dealt, Jesus felt also. Any temptation that I struggle with, Jesus also struggled with. The difference is, Jesus overcame each of these. He cares intimately for me in my struggles with life, but He also provides the strength, healing, and resources to overcome them. Little Drummer Boy is much more than a carol, it is God’s soft reminder to me that I can approach Him in all my imperfection, and He will still wrap me in an embrace of unconditional, impenetrable, overwhelming love.