Christmas Day has arrived. Advent preparation is complete and today is the day to “come and worship the newborn King.” For many, the holidays typically usher in a shopping frenzy and frantic pre-occupation with gift giving and gift getting. But what if the most important gift we can give requires us to bring ourselves to the table, to spend ourselves on a mission that is bigger that our personal ambition, to align ourselves with One who epitomizes simplicity and service?
Giving gifts has long been associated with the Christmas story. A year or two after the heralding angel had ascended, the watchful shepherds had disbanded, and the borrowed manger was again being used as a feeding trough, scholars from the East finally arrived having followed the lingering star in search of the mysterious child: When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh (Matthew 2:10-11 NIV).
Over two thousand years later, as we contemplate and celebrate how our lives intersect with the One born at Christmas, the most important gift we offer cannot be bought in a store. I readily confess that Romans 12:2 does not typically evoke Yuletide emotion, but this verse boldly challenges us to live out our faith by following choosing the road less traveled: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (NIV).
Treasures construed to be the contemporary equivalent of gold, incense, and myrrh are still important, especially when they are given in support of missions and ministries that care for the least of these, but they are not the only gifts we can offer in honor of Jesus. As you finalize your gift giving, perhaps you might consider offering something that costs you a little more of your self, a contribution from your own cache of talent, a treasure from your own unique reservoir of giftedness.
Do you recall the legend behind the musical story of “The Little Drummer Boy,” the song about a boy who gave of his meager talent by playing the drum for the Christ child? Introduced in the U.S. in the 1950’s, this memorable holiday carol made popular by Bing Crosby, was actually based on a Czech tune, “Carol of the Drum,” composed by Katherine K. Davis in 1941 and later recorded by the famed Von Trapp Family Singers in Austria. The more familiar “drummer boy” version details the fictional but meaningful tale of a young boy who approached the manger with nothing to offer but his drum. However, as the boy began to play his drum, his unique gift brought a smile to the face of the infant.
Throughout this holiday season a variety of colorful and thematic decorations will adorn many of our church campuses, iconic symbols such as a Christmas tree, an Advent wreath, or a manger crèche. Peculiar in the décor of the church I serve is a drum tree that is constructed annually in our atrium. Vick Vickery, our retired Scoutmaster, assembles this drum tree each year out of 34 percussion instruments from different eras in history. Included in this display are replicas of the rope drum used in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Historically, these instruments were crucial for conveying instructions and maintaining morale, for in the days prior to advanced telecommunication, soldiers were trained to listen carefully for strategic commands encoded in the resounding beat of the drummer.
Now, stacked and configured in the form of a Christmas tree, our drum tree serves as a Christmas reminder that God calls us to march to the beat of a different drummer, receiving our formative cues and motivation from the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus. While the default values of our culture may prompt us to spend irresponsibly, to consume disproportionately, and to hurry frantically, our faith calls us to march to the rhythm and cadence of a different percussionist, to be cheerful in giving, gracious in receiving, and intentional in living.
During this festive season of the year, you and I are invited to invest our best gifts, tangible and intangible, in ways that express our allegiance and alignment with the One born in Bethlehem.
(Barry Howard serves as senior minister at the First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida.)