“I have no gift to bring…that’s fit to give the king.” -The Little Drummer Boy
What do I have to give to the Lord this Christmas? It’s a question I find myself asking as we hum along the Advent season. Amidst the beautiful lights, the Advent wreaths, the Christmas trees, and the dark nights, I turn to different types of Christmas music to help me prepare for the coming of Jesus.
I love the enchanting songs and hymns written specifically to prepare us for this season. I love songs like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “What Child is This?” and “O Holy Night.”
But lately, as I’ve been reflecting on what I have to give the Lord this Christmas, I think of another of my favorite songs: The Little Drummer Boy.
It’s a simple song. A little drummer boy is invited to meet the Newborn King and offers to play for him. It’s a touching story that has become almost like a Lectio Divina meditation of the birth of Christ for me throughout the years. This song places me easily within the scene: a cold, dark night, the smell of strewn hay, the breath of cattle, a humble couple, a group of shepherds, and then, a manger holding Christ Himself: the Creator, the Savior of the World, the King of Kings.
In my meditation, I take the place of the little drummer boy. He, like Jesus, is poor and humble. Upon seeing the gifts of the magi and the recipient of the gifts, he reflects, “I have no gift to bring…that’s fit to give the king.” He has no frankincense or myrrh, no gold or silver. He has only himself and his drum.
Most of us are like the little drummer boy. The question he asks is the question that resounds in each of our hearts. What could we possibly give to the God of everything? What gift could we bring that’s fit to give the King?
The drum of the little drummer boy symbolizes his gifts and talents. It is perhaps his singular greatest treasure. And so, in his humility, with love and tenderness, he offers the Christ Child all he has: a song on his drum. The song almost prefigures the coins of the widow in the Gospel of Mark. The little drummer boy, like the widow, gives his greatest treasure. In response to the widow’s offering, Christ says, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest.” Christ’s smile in the song of the Little Drummer Boy seems to signify the same.
These are the greatest gifts the Lord asks of us: what we hold most dear, the beautiful gifts and talents he has bestowed on us, what makes us ourselves. We love him best, we glorify him best, when we give of ourselves and strive each day to become the man or woman he has created us to be.
What can we give the Newborn King this Christmas? Our hard work, our sleepless nights, our chores around the house, the virtues we’re working to perfect, our acts of faith, hope, and love. We can give him our time in prayer, our offerings at Mass, our acts of service to those around us, our talents in art, business, and sports.
The little drummer boy’s reward for his performance is the smile of Jesus. What a touching, beautiful reward! It has led me to wonder what I can do for God each day to make Him smile. Imagine if this were what motivated each member of the Body of Christ – what a vibrant Church of missionary disciples we would have! May this be our goal during the Advent season: to make the Christ Child smile in the giving of ourselves. As we continue to prepare for the coming of Jesus on Christmas, I invite you to reflect on what you have to give the Newborn King. What is your drum? What can you do throughout this season to honor Christ? What are a few ways you can make the child Jesus smile?
For more resources to guide you through the Advent season, click here.
Exult greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!
Behold: your king is coming to you,
a just savior is he,
Humble, and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
So begins the first liturgy of Holy Week on Palm Sunday. We hear these words referenced in the first of an unusual two Gospel readings during the procession into the church. We start our celebration of Palm Sunday, appropriately, by proclaiming and then reenacting the story in Matthew’s Gospel of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, a moment of great joy and excitement for the inhabitants of the city. Those in the congregation welcome the priest, who enters the church in persona Christi, as we echo the words of the people of Jerusalem, “Hosanna in the highest!” What a happy occasion! The Messiah, the One whom the prophets foretold, has come!
How fickle this joy seems, though, when we get to the Passion narrative. In a matter of minutes, we go from crying, “Hosanna!” to “Crucify him!” One minute, we’re giving Jesus a king’s welcome. The next, we’re condemning Him to death. I know I’m not the only one who feels a dagger through his heart every time we say—loudly—that refrain of condemnation. How dare I welcome Christ with such exuberance, knowing what I’m about to do to Him? Quite the emotional roller coaster, with Mass only halfway over!
Holy Week is exhausting. I find it the most taxing part of the liturgical year. Starting with Palm Sunday, I’m attending Masses, praying the Stations of the Cross, and singing with the choir for days on end, practically turning the Triduum into a 3-day long vigil. In recent years, I’ve taken to spending Good Friday on pilgrimage to the National Shrine in Washington, D.C., to place myself in an intentional state of prayer and reflection.
So why do I do this to myself? Why get on this roller coaster and make myself so physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained by the time Easter morning arrives? Quite simply, it’s because I love it. It’s the most rewarding experience of prayer that I have all year.
On Palm Sunday, we’re reminded of what we’ll bear witness to in the days to come. We’re invited to reflect on what’s about to be re-presented in a real-time reenactment of the focal point of Christ’s entire earthly life.
At the Chrism Mass on the morning of Holy Thursday, we bear witness to the consecration of holy oils for use in the upcoming year’s sacraments. We also see the gathering of all our diocesan priests, who renew their vows and participate in probably the largest concelebration of the year. It’s a moving and impressive sight.
Later on Holy Thursday, we see the reenactment of the Last Supper, the very institution of the Eucharist we celebrate to this day. We’re reminded, too, of the great humility we’re called to emulate: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
On Good Friday, we once again take up the cries of, “Crucify him!” as we see the events of Christ’s Passion and death unfold before our eyes. We’re called toward the sanctuary to kiss the gruesome device of our salvation, the ancient instrument of punishment used to redeem all of mankind. And after an unceremonious Communion service, the liturgy suddenly pauses and we just go home. The Church holds its breath as we wait.
And then, finally, the Easter Vigil—the happiest day of the year, of all history! We hear the no longer fickle, but truly joyous words of the Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation:
Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,
exult, let Angel ministers of God exult,
let the trumpet of salvation
sound aloud our mighty King's triumph!
Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of the earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.
If I arrive at Easter morning feeling exhausted but strengthened, it means that I've truly entered into Holy Week, walking with Christ as He always walks with me. This Holy Week, may we walk more closely with Christ on His journey towards the cross, knowing that this journey continues with His resurrection. It is Christ's resurrection, His triumph over sin and death, that gives our Lenten journey meaning and enables us to exult with the Church and be glad!
Question for Reflection: How can you enter more deeply into Holy Week in order to better celebrate the joy of Easter Sunday?
For more resources to prepare you for Holy Week and Easter, please click here.
There’s something to be said for silence. In the absence of vocalizations or other sounds, one can focus more intently in his or her surroundings. At first, it may seem uncomfortable, especially if one is usually talkative and used to a noisy environment. At the same time, one might have difficulty focusing his or her thoughts in silence, suddenly having to contend with an onslaught of mental distractions. Especially in today’s society, one is constantly bombarded with external messages, symbols, and other stimuli in a magnitude never encountered previously. In one way or another, we have become numb.
We now find ourselves nearly halfway through Advent, a period of reflection, meditation, and waiting in anticipation of the solemn celebration of the nativity of our Lord. While the rest of the culture may be focused on shopping for gifts and decorating for the holidays, the faithful are called to contemplate the gift of Love made incarnate in a most humble setting over two thousand years ago. Throughout the liturgical year, but especially during this time of Advent, I find that removing myself from the demands of the world and replacing them with the stillness of Bethlehem is not only refreshing, but also an effective catalyst for drawing more deeply into the mystery of the Incarnation: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)
How can silence help us dwell in this mystery? For one, sacred Scripture contains numerous accounts of how effective silence is for drawing one nearer to God and neighbor. Actually, one of my favorite biblical passages illustrates the friends of the greatly afflicted Job sharing in his miseries through their silent presence: “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2:11-13). God is not just with us, however, in moments of suffering or, on the opposite side of the spectrum, moments of majestic power and glory. God’s love continuously invites us to draw near to Him in our daily lives as well. Remember that the prophet Elijah experienced God in the sound of a gentle breeze blowing, not in the preceding bursts of wind, earthquake, or fire (1 Kings 19:11-13).
While silence can be beneficial to one’s spiritual life, it itself is not the end of contemplation or meditation. Rather, the focus remains, as it is for all prayer, communication with God. Silence, then, is a medium for encountering God, just as music or the spoken word is employed in liturgy. There are times when words are insufficient or music fails to strike the right chords. In these cases, a silent presence can be the most appropriate expression of closeness, such as in hospice, a cemetery, nursery, hospital, or any other place where the ministry of presence is desired. Similarly, as I prepare myself for a Holy Hour of silent adoration before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, I remind myself of the importance of placing myself before God’s presence. Sometimes, a tender gaze of love can be a beautiful prayer in itself.
As we continue to wait and reflect during the beginning of the new liturgical year for Christmas, let us pray to be able to free our minds from the things of this world that may distract us from seeking our “heavenly peace,” that is, union with God, the Word Incarnate, Emmanuel. For it was indeed a silent night, as the carol goes, during which our Savior came into this world and the shepherds and magi adored him. The wonder and awe of the miracle had passed over the scholars and authority figures and was instead “given to the childlike” to experience and behold for themselves (Matthew 11:25). In silence, our joy is not diminished, nor is our love any less potent, but through it we can continue to focus our attention and energy towards adoring the King of Kings and Lord of Lords: Jesus Christ, true God and true man.