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  • Barbra Davis

The Theology of “The Little Drummer Boy”

One of my very favorite Christmas songs is "The Little Drummer Boy," but it wasn’t until this year that I really thought about the words of that song in relation to scripture. It always seemed to be a cute little song that brought a smile to my face, not a lesson from the Bible to my mind.

Originally titled "Carol of the Drum," this song was written in 1941 by pianist Katherine K. Davis (no relation). It’s based on a traditional Czech carol, and it speaks of some very powerful biblical doctrines which I’m sure are often missed by those who hear and sing along with the music.

The Setting The song refers to the nativity of Jesus, Immanuel, which means “God with us.” The setting is the stable where the newborn baby has been placed to rest. Of course, God would not let this occasion go unnoticed. After all, it is a stunning event, unique in all history. So God sent messengers, His angels, to announce the holy birth.

Soon a variety of local folks gathered in the small area designed to house cattle. Could there be a more humble place for God to finally come to earth? The people arriving first were the shepherds who had been visited by the angels, but they surely spread the word to others, and the stable quickly filled. Poor people, especially, would be thrilled to hear Messiah had finally arrived.

The song Enter a “poor boy” who has one treasured possession: a drum. Apparently he also has a God-given talent for playing it. If you doubt that playing the drum is an ability given by the creator to only some, try playing a drum yourself. The noise can be deafening, and certainly not pleasant. Now witness the skill, style and flair of drummers like Ringo Starr, Buddy Rich and Phil Collins. What a difference!

No Gift So here we have a little boy who comes to see the newborn king, a king he identifies with because He isn’t living in a far-off castle, he’s right there in town, sleeping in a humble stable. The boy is awed by the infant who is “God with us.” Suddenly he realizes, “I have no gift to bring that’s fit to give our king!”

We are all there. Nothing we have or are would be “fit” to give the King of the Universe. We are so polluted by the filth of sin that even our finest possessions are tainted and impure. As Job 34:9 so eloquently states: “It profits a man nothing when he tries to please God.” (NIV). This is clarified by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 64:6: “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we proudly display our righteous deeds, we find they are but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall. And our sins, like the wind, sweep us away.” (NL T)

“Shall I play for You?” Each of us has some talent or ability that makes us uniquely gifted to serve. This is what God really wants from us as a response to His priceless gift of the Messiah. When we use what He has given us to praise and worship Him, God is pleased beyond measure. I’m sure God truly responds as this little song states: “Then He smiled at me!”

“Then He smiled at me!” Real meaning in life, both now and in eternity, is found in the restoration of the relationship with God that was lost with Adam and Eve's fall into sin. That restoration began with the birth of a Savior, long ago on that first Christmas. Like the little drummer boy, may we all find a way to show our thanks to God every day, even in little things.

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