For at least fifteen years Cyndi and I have started our Christmas season by watching holiday movies on November 1st (the first is always Muppets Christmas Carol) and keep it up until the end of December. I start listening to Christmas music in my office the Monday after Thanksgiving - my favorites are Amy Grant, Diana Krall, Pentatonix, and Michael W. Smith. We look for Salvation Army kettles so we can stuff a dollar in the slot. And even as I am typing this Cyndi is in the kitchen decorating Christmas cookies. We look forward to this season all year.
We used to go caroling every December, but unfortunately that has fallen off our schedule. I wish we still did it. I miss it a lot. When our kids were young we sang carols while riding around town in our 1980s minivan, the most notable being Angels We Have Heard On High, trying to sing the entire chorus in one big breath.
For several years my favorite Christmas song has been Grown-Up Christmas List as sung by Amy Grant … “time would heal all hearts, everyone would have a friend, right would always win, and love would never end.”
For even longer, my least-favorite Christmas song has been Little Drummer Boy. I’ll admit I was too vocal with my complaints, but I never understood why any mother of a newborn would be happy to see a young boy with a drum. And I might have swallowed that objection except for the mind-numbing “Pa rum pum pum pums” that go on and on and on.
And yet, my dissatisfaction with the Little Drummer Boy song has always made me uneasy since two people closest to me, Cyndi and Carroll, are both percussionists.
Well, I’m making a change this year, a move that started twelve months ago while we were playing a concert with the Metro Big Band in Guatemala. I decided to change my mind about The Little Drummer Boy. I don’t intend to complain about it anymore.
We were playing an arrangement of LDB by Denver and the Mile High Orchestra, and in one trombone section feature I had a part with an arm-breaking lick when I had to throw my slide from 6th position to 1st to 6th to 1st playing 16th notes, which may not sound like much unless you’ve spent some time playing trombone.
I doubt I ever played it exactly correct. I couldn’t move my arm as fast enough to guarantee every pitch. I had to hope I was close enough. And then, during one afternoon performance, as I was trying to play, it occurred to me Jesus always meets us where we are with what we have to offer. He doesn’t expect perfection, just wants us to come and try.
Who was I to decide what gifts Jesus would want. Maybe he loved drums in the hands of young boys. Here I was hoping Jesus would be happy and honored with my meager trombone technique, but I had little patience for another musician doing his best. I was glad Jesus didn’t toss me out of the manger the way I expected him to do with the little drummer boy.
All of that happened last December and I’ve been waiting eleven months to confess it. And, to see if I still understood it.
This morning, while in my office spreadsheeting away and listening to my Spotify Christmas playlist, I heard Amy Grant sing Breath of Heaven from her 1992 Home for Christmas album.
One of the blessings of music is how a melody or lyric you’ve heard hundreds of times can still surprise you. This time, when I listened to the lyrics again, I stopped entering numbers. In fact, I stopped breathing. I was captured. I was ambushed. Especially when she sang …
Do you wonder as you watch my face,
If a wiser one should have had my place,
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of your plan.
Help me be strong.
Help me be.
“But I offer all I am.”
What else is there t offer Jesus? This is it. This is all I am as a writer. All I am as a musician. All I am as a teacher. All I am as a husband, father, and grandfather.
I can’t say Little Drummer Boy will ever be my favorite Christmas carol. In fact, I’m sure it won’t. But at least, as of now, I won’t complain about it anymore. I’m starting a new tradition this year.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32