Channeling our inner "drummer boy" as a simple gift to the newborn King.
All of us at some point during the Holiday season have likely heard the song, "The Little Drummer Boy." Perhaps some of us may even recall the Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated television special.
The song was originally known as "Carol of the Drum" and was written by composer Katherine Kennicott Davis in 1941. It was first recorded in 1951 by none other than the famous Von Trapp Family, who many of us know from the motion picture, "The Sound of Music."
Whether you hear it as your shopping for Christmas gifts, driving in your car, or as part of a Christmas pageant, I suspect you can't help but tap your foot to the rhythm, or even sing along to the song's simple, yet profound words:
Come they told me, pa rum pa pa pum.
Our newborn King to see, pa rum pa pa pum.
More than simple lyrics, it's an invitation we receive at this time every year. Though the little drummer boy is a fictitious character, he is in fact, symbolic of all of us.
Like the little drummer boy, we as Christians are invited to come and encounter the Word Made Flesh, gazing upon His infant face as He rests in a simple manger. Just like the drummer boy, we have but one gift worthy of such a King: the steady rhythm of our own drum, that is to say, our heart.
In fact, it's all Our Lord desires: a heart that beats in perfect harmony with His heart, a heart that radiates His love. St. Gregory of Nyssa, tells us:
"...the soul copies the life that is above, and is conformed to the peculiar features of the Divine nature; none of its habits are life to it except that of love, which clings by natural affinity to the Beautiful. For this is what love is; the inherent affection towards a chosen object. When, then, the soul, having become simple and single in form and so perfectly godlike, find that perfectly simple and immaterial good which is really worth enthusiasm and love, it attaches itself to it and blends with it by means of the movement and activity love, fashioning itself according to that which it is continually finding and grasping." (On the Soul and Resurrection)
For our hearts to beat in rhythm with the Incarnate Word, we must not merely love Him. Rather, we must exuberate His love to others.
St. Ephraim the Syrian tells us, "He in whom there is love, does not consider anyone alien to himself, but all are to him his own people; he in whom there is love, does not become irritated, is not proud, does not become inflamed with anger, does not rejoice over injustice, is not mired in falsehood, does not consider anyone as his enemy; he in whom there is love, endures everything, is compassionate, is longsuffering. Therefore, he who has acquired love is blessed. God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God (1 John 4:16)."
Yet as we approach the manger this year, it seems that both religion and society, have arrived at the same crossroads: a disregard for the sanctity of human life, an assault on the traditional definition of gender and family dynamic, an increase in violence, persecution, divisiveness, confusion, and despair. Suffice to say that the ever increasing rhetoric and radical extremisim that exists on all sides are not a harmonious rhythm worthy as a gift to Our Lord, but rather, a disasterous noise that offends his Infant Ears.
"A Christian must not be fanatical," St. Paisios tells us. "He must have love and be sensitive toward all people."
Fanaticism, dear brothers and sisters, is not love, it is noise.
None of us would ever approach the crib of a newborn baby with a pair of clanging cymbals. And yet, that's how we are approaching the manger of Our Lord: overwhelmed with a constant flow of useless, distracting, fanatical noise; which subsequently causes hatred and discontent.
"We are too engrossed in things of this world," Elder Thaddeus tells us. "Thus becoming spiritually impoverished, because one cannot sit in two choirs."
The Christmas season is the perfect time for all of us to transition from spiritual impoverishment and offensive noise, to a truly Christian choir, with a rhythm that is pleasing to the ear of the Christ child. Like the little drummer boy's tune, the beat of our hearts must be steady, gentle, and soothing. Moreover, that rhythm must remain with us, not just during the Christmas season, but throughout the new year.
To maintain that rhythm through the year is actually rather simple.
St. Nikolai Velimirovich instructs us: "If you can help a person, do so. If you are unable to help, then pray for them. If you do not know how to pray, then wish him well."
Likewise, for a heart to beat in unision with that of Our Lord, St. John of Kronstadt provides a bit of simple advice: "Be charitable to the poor, willingly, without suspiciousness, doubt, and minute investigation, remembering that in the person of the poor you do good to Christ Himself, as it is written: 'Inasmuch as ye have done unto one of the least of these, My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.'"
While we often associate being poor with having little money, in fact, all of us are poor in some fashion or another. Some of us are poor in our prayer life. Perhaps we are poor in intelligence. Many of us are poor in kindness and patience. Some of us are poor in health. There are those among us who are poor because they lack anybody to show them love.
To be charitable to the poor, therefore, is to be a radiant example of the love of God to all people at all times, and in all places.
Yet, the place we most seem to lack any form of love or charity is actually not a place at all. Social media is by in large a cess pool of hatred and division. It is in this virtual existence that words become weapons used to degrade the dignity of our fellow man and dismantle the spirit of those with whom we don't agree.
Far too often, social media becomes a "place" where the heart finds itself empty of love and the mind, falls unders a guise of self-centered confidence, which spawns from hatred.
St. Porphyrios tells us that, "When people are empty of Christ, a thousand and one other things come to fill them up: jealousness, hatred, boredom, melancholy, resentment, a wordly outlook, worldly pleasures."
How often do you find yourself scrolling through your social media feed finding that your heart is slowly becoming empty of Christ? How often does something you see on social media cause your heart to fall out of rhythm with the beat of unceasing love that we find in the Heart of the newborn Savior?
In order to have a heart that beats in perfect unison with the Heart of Christ, we must be charitable not just in our "actual" existence, but likewise in our "virtual" existence.
To accomplish this we must first cease from using our words as weapons of conflict and division. In our "virtual" existence, we must strive to remember that in our "actual" existence we are all poor in some way. Any words we offer on social media should be written with this in mind, knowing that inasmuch as you do something unto one of the least of these (the poor), you do it unto the Lord.
To have a heart beating in unison with the Heart of Christ in our "virtual" existence, one should consider the words of the Righteous Seraphim Rose:
"Don't criticize or judge other people -- regard everyone else as an angel, justify their mistakes and weaknesses, and condemn only youself as the worst sinner. This is step one in any kind of spiritual life."
Our beloved Seraphim Rose's words remind me of the the first inaugural address of President Abraham Lincoln, who said:
"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
Yes, for a heart to beat in unison with the Heart of Christ, it is absolutely necessary that we appeal to our better angels.
St. Maximos the Confessor instructs us, "Do not despise Christ's commandment of love, for it is the means by which you can become a child of God."
Perhaps the best way to purify our hearts this holiday season would be to revisit that classic Rankin/Bass movie, "The Little Drummer Boy," and channel what President Lincoln called, "the mystic chords of memory." To curl up in our favorite blanket with a warm mug of cocoa and reminisce on the holiday spirit we felt in our childhood. After all, as Our Lord reminds us in St. Matthew's gospel, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
Indeed, it could be said that the little drummer boy represents all of us.
Truly, we are all poor. None of us could possibly offer a gift worthy of the newborn King. Yet, all that Christ asks for is something we all possess: our hearts, beating in unison with His Heart, and radiating His Love to all those we encounter on life's journey.
Amazing, isn't it?
Just you and your heart -- your beating drum. That’s all He desires. To the newborn Emmanuel, it is the greatest gift you can bring to His simple manger.
May we all be like the little drummer boy, offering the gift of our heartbeat as a rhythm of harmonious love, beating in perfect unison with that of the newborn King.
Then, He smiled at me, pa rum pa pa pum.
Me, and my drum.
Through the prayers of our holy fathers, have mercy on us and save us.
In peace and simplicity.
J. Basil Dannebohm