For a long while my favourite Christmas carol was Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Apart from the rousing tune, I considered it to be one of the more theologically robust Christmas carols. That kind of thing has always been important to me, but I’ve mellowed a bit over the years. In the past I was so zealous that I even hesitated to sing the line ‘Veiled in flesh the Godhead see…’ because I thought that it flirted with the heresy of Docetism.
One song that didn’t ever get a look in was Little Drummer Boy. Adding a child with a drum to the nativity story didn’t seem to add anything, except bizarre anachronism and dubious collaborations between David Bowie and Bing Crosby. I could do without any of that.
A couple of years ago I was introduced to a version of the song that didn’t suck (by a guy called Sean Quigley) and as a result I actually started reflecting on the words, which I’d never really listened to before. I began to realise that in many ways this was the most Christocentric of all Christmas songs. While a lot of the thumping Christmas carols may have us declaring great (or possibly insipid and dubious) theological truths, Little Drummer Boy is a song about the personal response required by these truths. It’s like the difference between a poem about the majesty of the ocean, and a poem about swimming in the sea. It has become especially poignant as I have seen my book edge its way towards publication. “Shall I write for you?” I say, and the baby Jesus nods. Like the little boy in the song, what I bring may seem paltry compared to other gifts that are laid before him, but, just like the little boy, the passion of my gift is what really matters. ‘I write my best for him’ and he smiles. He likes it when we make him smile.