Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a lot of favorite Christmas songs. But lately the one that’s really stood out for me is The Little Drummer Boy. When I was younger, I liked it just because of all the “Rum pum pum pum’s”. But the reason I like this song now is because of the story it tells. Originally called Carol of the Drum, this Christmas classic was written back in 1941 by U.S. composer Katherine Kennicott Davis. I’m not sure what inspired her to write the song back then, but every time I hear it today, I can picture the young drummer boy in the middle of the Nativity scene.
Told from the perspective of the young drummer boy, in the first verse the boy tells us about a trip he was invited to take to see the newborn King.
Come, they told me / Our newborn King to see
Our finest gifts we bring / To lay before the King
So to honor Him / When we come
The first verse is pretty straightforward. The young drummer tells us about his invitation to see the newborn King. Although he doesn’t exactly say who invited him, we have the advantage of already knowing the story… he’s almost certainly referring to the three wise men. In this verse he also elaborates about the purpose of their trip. It turns out that the Magi didn’t merely invite the young drummer to go and see the newborn King. The other reason they were going on this journey was to honor the newborn King by giving him valuable gifts. So here’s a young drummer boy, accepting the invitation to accompany three distinguished kings on a journey to bring their finest gifts to a newborn King.
In the second verse, we fast forward to the manger scene. In this verse we hear what the little drummer boy said to the newborn King.
Little Baby / I am a poor boy too
I have no gift to bring / That’s fit to give our King
Shall I play for You / On my drum?
Spoken with the innocence that only a young child possesses, the little drummer boy says what’s on his mind. Although the boy knows that he and the three Magi are currently in the presence of the Lord, he sees a baby’s family that is so poor that their only option was to take shelter in a barn for the night. He relates to them on the same level, and speaks tenderly… “Little Baby, I am a poor boy too“.
Compared to the Magi’s three gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, the young drummer quickly realizes that he’s out of his league. He tells the baby Jesus that he doesn’t have anything valuable to give Him. But with the hopeful optimism of a child, he doesn’t give up. He has his drum. And like so many young kids who are learning to play a musical instrument, his voice is full of enthusiasm and hope when he asks if he should play something for Him.
The third verse picks up where the second verse left off. Since baby Jesus couldn’t reply to the young boy, Mary answers for him with a gentle, motherly nod. And so the little drummer boy shared his musical gift and tells us how it went.
Mary nodded / The ox and lamb kept time
I played my drum for Him / I played my best for Him
Then He smiled at me / Me and my drum
Chances are this is the young boy’s favorite part of his story. The little drummer boy recounts that he played his drum for the Lord, and that even the animals helped him keep the beat. In the excited, convincing voice of a young boy, he proudly tells us that he got to play his drum for the newborn King. But he says that he didn’t just play for the Lord, he played his best for the Lord. And it was in that moment that the little drummer boy learned what pleased the newborn King. Upon seeing the humble drummer boy sharing his sincere, simple gift, the baby Jesus lights him up with a smile.
And just as simply as the little drummer boy’s story began, his story ends. And so does ours.
You see, we’re a lot like the little drummer boy on a journey to see the Lord, not sure if what we have to offer is going to be “good enough” when we get there. But it turns out that on the day we finally arrive to see Him, all are welcome and none of our “finest” material possessions we could ever offer compare to the time and talents that we share along the way. In the end, it’s you and the simple gifts you share that truly make Him smile.