There’s nothing that gets my brain working and moving quite like music. It’s one of the few things that really makes sense to me. Things just seem to click when music is involved. The only thing that comes close to making my brain work like music is theology. I thoroughly enjoy studying, discussing, and trying to understand the implications of certain concepts that the Bible discusses.
When music and theology intersect, it’s pretty much like a full-on mental overdrive for me. Dissecting the words, phrases, and thoughts of certain songs that seek to lift high God and His goodness is like letting a kid loose in a candy store.
Especially around Christmastime, there’s no shortage of songs that talk about God, and in a fairly sing-songy way like the classics that have defined the season. However, these songs aren’t always that substantial. They sound really, really solid, but in fact are theologically junk. Songs like Away In A Manger, Do You Hear What I Hear, We Three Kings, and It Came Upon A Midnight Clear are catchy, melodically alluring, and seem to have good lines, but are really just crap. Brandon Evans already dissected these, so if you want to know more about why these songs aren’t really that great, check out his article here.
In contrast, there are some really good, really deep, really strong songs that have theologically-rooted meanings, and, when we dig deeper into the lyrics, are really heart-wrenching and beautiful. Songs like Silent Night, O Holy Night, and Hark The Herald Angels Sing, among so many more that Evans mentions here, are filled to the brim with theological meaning and depth that we really don’t understand without looking further into the lyrics.
There’s one song that fairly consistently gets overlooked. It’s kind of pushed off as a choir song, or a children’s song, that is no more than a made up Christmas tale in poetic-melodic form.
I would go so far as to say that Little Drummer Boy is the most underrated Christmas song in existence.
It may not be an adaptation of a biblical story, but Little Drummer Boy is absolutely rich in theological truth. A couple of weeks ago, as I was driving home from the library late one night, this song came on and I started bawling like a baby. It hit me so poignantly. Written in 1958, the song tells the story of a kid who is going to see Jesus. Pretty simple right? That’s essentially what most people will think about when asked about the song. That’s all it really is to them, just a song about a kid playing his drum for Jesus.
While that is the story in essence, there’s way more. Amidst the repetitious rum pa pum pum’s, the lyrics are quite moving. Here’s a little commentary on the song:
The song is really divided into two parts: the wisemen’s part (told by the drummer boy), and the drummer boy’s part. It seems to be set in the wisemen’s location at the start, then the manger scene at the end of the song.
THE WISEMEN’S PART
Come they told me — “they,” most likely being either the wisemen since we see later on that the boy is poor and would’ve probably been a servant of the wisemen
A new born king to see — Jesus was just born, so they go to pay respect to Him
Our finest gifts we bring — the “they” mentioned earlier are bringing the gold, frankincense, and myrrh found in the biblical narrative
To lay before the king — basic gift giving ritual and humble placement
So to honor him — these acts of going to see Jesus and give Him gifts are in honor
When we come — they’re leaving wherever they are in order to find Jesus
THE DRUMMER BOY’S PART
Little baby — Jesus
I am a poor boy too — the drummer boy is poor, therefore leading to an inference that he is a servant of the wisemen. He identifies with Jesus’ position, since he sees Him lying in a horse trough in a cave, where customarily children aren’t born
I have no gift to bring
That’s fit to give our king — taking these two lines together is only appropriate; the drummer boy acknowledges Jesus’ royal status, and recognizes that there’s nothing that he could bring that would be able to proclaim the honor that is due to Him
Shall I play for you — in light of knowing that there’s no gift that he could bring to properly honor Jesus, the drummer boy turns to what he does in order to give as a gift, his drumming, and asks Mary for permission
Mary nodded — she grants permission
The ox and lamb kept time — in order to give a whimsical and light-hearted element, the songwriter adds this in for imagery and to paint more of the manger scene
I played my drum for him — the drummer boy begins to give his “gift” to Jesus
I played my best for him — because he knows Jesus’ status, he plays nothing but the best he can
Then he smiled at me
Me and my drum — Jesus, possibly in acknowledgment, smiles at the boy and his drumming
Now, in real life, did the ox and lamb in the cave keep time? Probably not. Did Jesus really smile at the boy for playing? Jesus was probably smiling because He was relieving Himself and was happy to not be holding in what He was holding in. Did the boy exist at all? In all actuality, most likely not.
Here’s what we can draw from this story. We are the drummer boy, poor in our status, who find out that Jesus has come. Anything we have, however great or small, really isn’t fitting to give Him, because He’s the King of kings. So, we turn to what we know best, our talent, skill, or whatever we have in our hands, and do whatever we can with what we have to give our best sacrifice as a gift to Him.
It’s underrated because it says so much about who we are in relation to who Jesus is.
I tear up every time I hear this song played. I tear up reading the lyrics. It’s such a beautiful picture of how even though our gifts aren’t worth anything in relation to Jesus, He still wants us to give our best to Him. He still wants what we bring. He still loves us no matter what we have.
When music and theology intersect, there is such a beautiful picture of how our gifts are nothing, yet everything to Jesus.