What He Wants: Reflections on “The Little Drummer Boy”

December 24, 2021 | Jaci Miller

Most of us love Christmas songs. We may disagree about when to start singing them (I’m not an enthusiast of carols in October), but for most of us, these songs hold meaning. A classic endures because it resonates with something deep inside people.

This year, when I heard “The Little Drummer Boy” and it’s familiar “Pa-rum pum pum pum,” I paused and reflected again on this tune. This song has long stirred that something in me. A child with nothing to offer the King. How often does that feel like me?

I have nothing to give Jesus. I’m a nobody in worldly terms. I have no gift to bring.

The folks in the Old Testament did their best. The Bible references offerings in the NIV Old Testament more than 700 times. They brought burnt offerings, grain offerings, “wave” offerings, all kinds of offerings in an attempt to please God.

But in the end, these were never enough. All the animals slaughtered, all the blood spilled, all the gifts brought before the Lord were never intended to be a permanent solution to our separation from Him.

The people truly must have wondered, “What do I have to offer?” Perhaps they wondered in anguish, “What does God want from me?!” 

Thankfully, the Messiah fixed all that. The sacrifices could end because of the gift Jesus gave — His life.

The Little Drummer Boy longed to give a gift to Jesus. He recognized who Jesus was and sought to offer Him something worthy of a King. But he had no gold, no frankincense, not even any myrrh; he was “a poor boy, too.”

But he wasn’t the only one who came to the birthday party empty-handed. The shepherds who visited the manger scene offered nothing, not even the sheep that made up their livelihoods. In a remarkable move, they left those sheep behind in the fields. Perhaps this was God symbolically ending the Old Testament’s sacrificial system; the true sacrifice had arrived. Now, a new pattern. A coming before the Lord with empty hands … and full hearts.

What a beautiful picture. The shepherds, who certainly understood that to come to God meant presenting a sacrifice (some of their flock had surely been purchased for offerings), stood before the infant Messiah without even a drum to play. But they came to worship with what they had. Their hearts.

Much later, after Jesus had grown into an adult, a teacher of the law responded to Jesus in this way: “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him. To love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:33).

The shepherds gave the gift of worship. So did the Little Drummer Boy. He played his drum for the King. He played his best for Him.

Like the Little Drummer Boy, when we recognize Jesus as King, we long to give Him something worthy of His greatness. But we have nothing we can give the King — except our worship, except the deepest places of our hearts. Our best love.

It’s all we have to offer. But then again, it’s all He wants.

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