by Kevin Burton
Gift giving has me digging into what I’ve always considered a strange little song this Christmas season.
I’m beyond exasperated at the commercialization of Christmas and at myself for not doing anything significant to change the way my family does things. Maybe next year.
But the gift giving I speak of here concerns the gifts we give to God.
The song originally called “Carol of the Drum” is now known as “The Little Drummer Boy.” Its best-known feature is the repeated onomatopoeic word “pah-rum-pa-pum-pum.”
Now you know what song I’m talking about for sure!
(You would be greatly amused to know how far off I was, trying to spell onomatopoeic!)
The song was written by American composer Katherine Kennicott Davis in 1941. According to papers filed at her alma mater, Wellesley College, this was how the song came to be:
“[One day], when she was trying to take a nap, she was obsessed with this song that came into her head and it was supposed to have been inspired by a French song, ‘Patapan.’ And then ‘patapan’ translated in her mind to ‘pa-rum-pum-pum,’ and it took on a rhythm. The result was “The Little Drummer Boy.”
I have several versions of this song, recorded by various artists. My ears sort of skip over it most years, but not this year
In the song, the little drummer boy is invited to meet Jesus, the new-born king. The friends who are inviting him to come along say they are bringing their best gifts to honor the king.
But the boy worries that “I have no gift to bring, pah-rum-pa-pum-pum, that’s fit to bring our king….”
So the boy does all he can do. He takes the best talent he has, his drumming ability, and presents it in humility, with all his heart, to the king.
“I played my drum for him, pah-rum-pa-pum-pum. I played my best for him pah-rum-pa-pum-pum.”
The lyrical payoff is “Then he smiled at me, pah-rum-pa-pum-pum. Me and my drum.”
What a beautiful picture of Jesus looking upon the heart rather than the size of the gift and smiling upon the boy.
Contrast that scene with the bunch we encounter in the book of Malachi.
Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. That’s where our family Bible study is this week and the nest two.
In the book God sends a message of displeasure through the prophet Malachi to the priests who are offering sacrifices to God that are quite a bit less than their best.
In the time before the death and resurrection of Jesus, Israel had to present blood sacrifices to atone for their sin. But the priests who performed this duty at some point began to dishonor God by offering animals that were flawed in some way.
This was cattle that couldn’t be sold in the market. So the priests tried to cut their losses by offering these animals to God. It was disrespect of the worst kind and it did not go un-noticed or unpunished. It’s a short book, four chapters. I invite you to check it out.
Imagine Jesus comes to eat at your house and you serve leftovers.
Now maybe you’re the little drummer boy from the song and all you have is leftovers. But these priests were rich in the earthly sense, offering scraps to the God who delivered their ancestors from bondage in Egypt.
Most of us are in the middle somewhere aren’t we? We’re not scraping the bottom of the barrel offering the worst gifts to God and trying to pass them off as something good. But neither are we consistently serving up our very best.
Which extreme are you closest to? We can even fool ourselves sometimes in trying to answer that question. But God knows the heart.
It’s a good question to be pondering I think, in this season of New Year’s resolutions. Don’t you agree?