Lessons from the Little Drummer Boy

Homily for the Solemnity of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ
Preached on December 24-25, 2013 at St. Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY and St. Mary Catholic Church, Perryville KY
Readings for the Vigil Mass: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 89:4-5, 16-17, 27, 29; Acts of the Apostles 13:16-17, 22-25; Matthew 1:1-25
Readings for the Mass at Night: Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalm 96:1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14
Readings for the Mass during the Day: Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18

“Come,” they told me, pa rum pa pum pum,
“a newborn King to see,” pa rum pa pum pum.
“Our finest gifts we bring,” pa rum pa pum pum,
“to lay before the King,” pa rum pa pum pum,
Rum pa pum pum, rum pa pum pum,
“so to honor Him,” pa rum pa pum pum,
“when we come.”
 
This song, originally titled “The Carol of the Drum” by composer Katherine Kennicott Davis (1892-1980) when she wrote it in 1941, is more popularly known as “The Little Drummer Boy.” It recounts how a young lad came to know about the birth of the Christ-Child. Someone told him about it. “Come,” he was told, “a newborn King to see.”

Just like that little drummer boy, we have come here because someone told us about Christmas. Someone cared enough to let us know that “a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6).

The Lord’s birth probably would have gone unnoticed if an angel had not come to proclaim to the shepherds the “good news of great joy” (cf. Lk. 2:10). The wise men from the east would not have gone to seek the newborn King if the star had not heralded His coming (cf. Mt. 2:1-2). Herod and all of Jerusalem would not have heard about it if those wise men had kept it to themselves (cf. Mt. 2:3).

But, as the prophet Isaiah had foretold, “For Zion’s sake, I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not be quiet” (Is. 62:1). News this good demands to be shared, even to the likes of Herod who would care less about it.

Saint Paul once reminded the Romans, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:13-15).

We who have received this “good news of great joy” (Lk. 2:10) are also the ones whom the Lord sends out to proclaim it (cf. Mk. 16:15).

Come, let’s tell them, pa rum pa pum pum.
Here now is Bethlehem, pa rum pa pum pum.
The bread and wine we bring, pa rum pa pum pum,
become for us our King, pa rum pa pum pum,
Rum pa pum pum, rum pa pum pum.
Let us honor Him, pa rum pa pum pum,
when we come.
 
Of this mission the prophet Isaiah had once exclaimed, “How beautiful…are the feet of [those] who [bring] glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying ‘Your God is King!’” (Is. 52:7; cf. Rom. 10:15)
 
Little baby, pa rum pa pum pum,
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pa pum pum.
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pa pum pum,
that’s fit to give our King, pa rum pa pum pum,
Rum pa pum pum, rum pa pum pum.
Shall I play for You, pa rum pa pum pum,
on my drum?
 
ldrumWe have received an invitation to come here for a birthday celebration. Yet, the tragedy of this birthday is that everyone will receive a gift, except the celebrant. We all knew that it was coming up: we had four weeks of Advent to prepare and yet nothing much to show for it. Perhaps, we, like, that little drummer boy, still think that we can never have any “gift to bring that’s fit to give our King.”

Yet, even though we have come here with empty hands and sinful souls, the Birthday-Boy still welcomes us with the same wide-open arms that He stretches out for us on the cross on Calvary. He gives us a gift fit for all Kings: the gift of Himself, the Word made flesh (cf. Jn. 1:14), the bread and wine that becomes His Body and Blood. He gives Himself to us as a gift so that by His grace we too might become a gift to others.

Little baby, pa rum pa pum pum,
I am a sinner too, pa rum pa pum pum.
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pa pum pum,
that’s fit to give our King, pa rum pa pum pum,
Rum pa pum pum, rum pa pum pum.
Shall I pray to You? pa rum pa pum pum
Make me good.
 
Of this call Saint Paul had once told Titus, “Our great God and savior, Jesus Christ…gave Himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for Himself a people as His own, eager to do what is good” (Ti: 2:14).

Mary nodded, pa rum pa pum pum.
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pa pum pum.
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pa pum pum.
I played my best for Him, pa rum pa pum pum,
Rum pa pum pum, rum pa pum pum.
Then He smiled at me, pa rum pa pum pum,
me and my drum.
 
This is probably the most poignant part of the carol. That poor little drummer boy had nothing much to give to the Christ-Child, but what he did have he gave completely. He played his drum for him; he played his best for Him. And it was enough.

Perhaps, it might have been this poor little drummer boy that the Lord had in mind when He said, “Blessed are the poor in the spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt. 5:3; cf. Lk. 6:20).

This song of the little drummer boy reminds us something that we often forget: that the Lord came not as a powerful warrior but as a helpless child. The gifts that the wise men bring may indeed be fit for a King, but none of them are fit for a baby. A baby really does not ask for great gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh; he only asks that he be held and cuddled, kissed and loved. And that is exactly what God wants from us.

Mary knows this, pa rum pa pum pum.
She said, “Thy will be done.” pa rum pa pum pum.
No other gift He asks, pa rum pa pum pum,
save for our contrite hearts, pa rum pa pum pum
Rum pa pum pum, rum pa pum pum,
Shall we give to Him, pa rum pa pum pum,
us and our hearts?

~ by Fr. Noel F. Zamora on Wednesday, December 25, 2013.

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