As many of you know, I’m one of eight kids. I’m third in the line, but that just means that there are four or five of us who all suffer from “middle child syndrome.” I was the kind of middle child, though, who tried to get her attention from always doing things right. I was always trying to gain praise by being good. This, however, backfired. Whenever I got an A on a test, ran a tough race, or learned a new skill, my parents’ response was always, “well, I knew you could do it.” Don’t get me wrong; my parents are great, and extremely supportive – especially as I continue to collect Masters degrees like Hummel figurines. But their extreme confidence started to wear on me a bit. What would happen if, heaven forbid, I got a B? What would happen if I slept in and missed the race? What would happen if I were – gasp – a human who makes mistakes?
My mom loves to collect these fancy figurines that go together to make an elaborate Nativity scene. She’s collected almost all of them. She has the three wise men, complete with camel, a donkey, the shepherds, sheep in various positions, and even an angel that hovers above the scene. But she also has these figures that, as far as I can tell, had no place in the original nativity story. There’s this kid with a fishing pole, a girl looking, somehow, both devote and morose, and a boy with a drum. And it’s to this boy with a drum that I want us to think about now.
We’ve all heard of the song, “The Little Drummer Boy.” And when I was little, I had thought that this Drummer Boy was an original observer to the whole Jesus-in-the-manger, star-following, wise-men worshippers gig. His story had been swept up, at least for me, into the greater story of God entering human history. But let’s think about this story of this boy for a moment. You’ve just heard what happens when you give a kid a drum and say, “go at it.” Here’s what David James Duncan reflects on this song:
“Here is some uninvited urchin, standing right next to the cradle of a newborn baby, banging away on a drum. Have any vindictive relatives ever given a child in your home a drum? Pa rum pah pum pum is an extremely kind description of the result. Yet, out of reverence and love, the unidentified “poor boy” marches up to the manger of the (probably sleeping) Christ child and bangs the hell out of his drum.”
The funny thing is, when I read this reflection from David James Duncan, this was the first time I’d thought that maybe this Drummer Boy wasn’t any good at his drumming. When I was little, always worrying about getting my parent’s approval, I had always thought that he was some drumming prodigy, some kid in a tux straight from the New York City Orchestra.
But what if he was just some kid off the street. Some smelly kid who turned his mother’s clay pot upside down and stole her best ladle when her back was turned? And what if God liked it?
Sure, this is just a story. There is no historical evidence that this Drumming boy existed at all. But I wonder what Mary and Joseph were feeling when they went to Jerusalem, with this tiny, diaper-wetting – if they had diapers then –, spit-up covered baby, and heard these old people saying how great he was? Maybe Jesus had colic and Mary and Joseph had had sleepless night after sleepless night. Maybe they were scared, as many parents must have been, that their baby was so weak that he wouldn’t survive his first year? And as is the custom for all good Jews, Jesus is brought to Jerusalem eight days after he was born. Now, picture an eight-day old baby. Wrinkled, maybe a little jaundiced, maybe he still has a bit of a cone head from the birth. Now picture an eight-day old baby after a trip on a donkey across the country from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. But here comes Simeon, stealing Jesus out of his mother’s arms, and starts shouting about how he’s going to save the world. And as if that’s not enough, out comes this old woman, Anna, who must have looked a little crazy - old, and fasting and praying all the time - who goes around shouting about the child to everyone she lays her eyes on.
Now, as far as I can tell, Jesus has done nothing but be a baby at this point. He has no magic aura permeating from his skin that heals the sick; he has no telepathic qualities that call the sinners to repent. He’s a squirmy, fussy, probably still wrinkly baby, that has probably soaked through his diaper on occasion, and kept his parents up all night. Maybe Jesus has been so human, such a baby, that his parents, in the stress of being first-time parents of a newborn, have forgotten the unusual circumstances of his birth. Sure, they’re thrilled, as most new parents are, and they believe that they have the most beautiful, the most intelligent, the most amazing baby that has ever been born. But the thing is, I’m willing to bet, that all first time parents, who have conceived a child out of love, think the same thing. And they’re all right.
Why? Why are all parents right? Because of what delights God. Can you imagine God’s delight as God looked upon the baby Jesus? Think about your own face as you looked upon your child for the first time, or your niece or nephew, or your friend’s baby. What went through your mind? What might that baby have seen reflected in your face as you looked upon him or her?
My friend was talking about how he knew of his unconditional love for his newborn daughter. He was changing her diaper, and just as he was about to grab the wipes and the baby powder, she peed all over him. And he said he just laughed and laughed. He said he just couldn’t be more tickled about what she’d done to him. And maybe this is what I had been missing when I interpreted my own parents’ exclamations about how they always expect me to do well. Maybe, instead of mounting expectation after expectation upon me, they were just saying, “we’ve always thought that whatever you did, no matter how well you did it, you were amazing”?
What if we were to come to God just as we are, with our own natural gifts, with our pounding of drums, our hatred of paperwork, our nail-biting, our chewing with our mouths open, our inability to stick to a budget or balance our checkbooks? What if we were to come to God as an infant, to get back to where we knew exactly what we needed and knew exactly from whom to get it, and let God hold us, let God marvel at us with wide eyes and a huge smile, even as we make messes and cause sleep depravity? What if we remembered that no matter what our circumstances, no matter who our parents are, or what struggles we’ve gone through, that we were conceived in love? What if Jesus was the one who truly knew how much God loved him? What if Jesus knew exactly what God’s face looked like as God gazed upon him? Perhaps Jesus, then, is the one who can teach us how to truly realize that we are God’s children.