Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Spirit

"Little Drummer Boy" played overhead as I stretched to reach the top shelf of the refrigerated section for a jug of apple cider. Suddenly I found myself keenly aware of the lyrics, and the irony of their play in this place.

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum

Others bustled about me in layers of warmth, also reaching high and low for this or that, all in the same vein--with lists in hand; all with one same purpose--to accommodate guests. Most seemed fully unaware of the songstress' background voice.

A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum

I couldn't help myself--humming wasn't enough, I had to sing out!

Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum

I confess, I was overcome with this sense that Christ brings more to us than Himself at this time of year. I would venture to guess that many--if not most--of the shoes shuffling past others today don't belong to Believers in Jesus as Savior of their souls, but for a few days every year, despite religious affiliation (or none at all) the world shuffles to prepare a place.

To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum

The very Christmas after the September 11th attacks on our nation I drove solo from Virginia to Kentucky to spend Christmas with my father. We hadn't been together over ham or hymns for years, if ever, and the divide between us was vast. But the state of the nation and the spirit of Christmas blended in such a way that I felt compelled to bridge the abyss. It is still one of the most memorable Christmases of my life.

rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum

I was the Unforgiving Servant when it came to righteous indignation about my dad, and all I judged him to be or not to be. In 2001, however, I stretched to reach the top shelf of the meaning of God's grace and forgiveness, and there I found joy and peace. I recall how Dad and I both found ourselves weeping in the candlelight service at a welcoming Methodist church as "Silent Night" filled the air. We sang until our voices cracked and we couldn't sing any more.

So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum, When we come.

And that, I think, is the "more" that Christmas brings--as a holiday/a season/a day, even. First there was a virgin and a promise. There was an unexpected pregnancy and an unexpected adventure. There was a manger, there were shepherds, there was the star. First there were the astronomers--wise men--magi, and there was a jealous king. There was threat of death, and departure for safety. There was that baby--that confounding and miraculous birth.

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum

In that flesh, and in those hands and feet, God made Himself more known to the world than He ever had before. He was no longer distant. He was no longer quite so mysterious--and yet, more so! He was warm, and He loved. He was both firstborn and a second Adam. He was the Promise.

It has been a long year for our family--longer than a year. We have struggled, but we have been buoyed by community, by others' thoughtfulness, and by the creative gifts of our loving God. When we wondered how we might pay a bill, someone stepped in with an unexpected means. When we had desires and hopes, there were those who anticipated our needs. In all of our married life, my husband and I have never seen the Lord in flesh as we have this year. He has been personal, and warm. He has held our hands through the hands of His people, and He has loved.

I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum

Standing there in Trader Joe's today, listening to "Little Drummer Boy," I sang out--and I got misty. Jesus came for each of the people scurrying around the store--even as they scurried. None knelt before him then but shepherds--and the angels who were all present. Here, in the back aisle by the coffee samples, I may have been the only shepherd; but the angels were present, and I felt them. Mothers in America have invited their lost children to the supper table for Christmas Eve and daughters have packed their cars to drive cross-country to heal broken relationships with their fathers for Christmas Day. Sisters, friends, brothers, enemies--everyone tends to be moved in some emotional way by the lights and the chorus. There is expectation (and often disappointment because of that expectation)--there is power in Christmas that somehow moves with or without an acknowledgment of Jesus' part.

I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum

After all, scientists have studied the ancient writings, star maps and legends to pinpoint his birth more likely in April than December, anyway; the Christmas tree was nothing the Apostles ever dreamed of; there were not shopping malls and carols, no sleighs of horses, or Christian saints to discuss in the early church--in fact, there were barely buildings to meet in at all. Christ is, with or without Christmas. And, it seems, Christmas is, with or without Christ. There is a spirit of Christ's joy that permeates the air regardless of a belief in Him. To me, this seems like a very good thing. Decorations glow and shine and dress up otherwise tacky lawns (or make them tackier), and somehow, whether people praise Him or not, He is praised!

That's fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum

Finally, I listened to the crux of the song--this poor boy played his best, and that was his gift for the King. Gold, frankincense or myrrh were not required. His music wasn't wrapped, but it was presented with an attitude of gratitude, and this is how we ought to live every day. In every very action I ought to be giving my best for Christ. In every movement of my body I ought to be praising him! I grumble about my jobs. I resent some of the things he asks me to do. Don't you? But poor or not, play your best! Bring what you do have before the King of Kings. Your gift is seen for all that it is and none of what it is not. On Christmas, as they give their best to others, Christ is served even by those who do not know Him, who deny Him, or worse, work against Him! The Holy Spirit was present at the grocery store today. THAT is Christmas.

Make it a joyful one! Merry Christmas.

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.

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