Photo: Felix Carroll
A Gift Fit to Bring a King
By Marian Friedrichs (Dec 23, 2007)
One of my favorite Christmas carols is "The Little Drummer Boy." When I heard Josh Groban's new version in the car the other day, my eyes began to fill. I'm always moved by the image of that little boy — poor and cold, not knowing exactly what's going on but told by the adults in his life that he is visiting a King — who seems to understand instinctively what Jesus really wants.
The little drummer boy believes he has "no gift to bring that's fit to give a King," and yet he asks Mary, "Shall I play for Him ... on my drum?" This child in his simplicity offers, with complete trust and without shame, all that he has — himself and his works — and as children often do, he pleases God just by being who he is with all his heart. "I played my best for Him," he says.
There are few of us — whether we're parents, godparents, relatives, teachers, or friends of a little one — who could ever be unhappy with the work of a child who has done her best and offered it to us. In fact, these gifts are probably among the most thrilling we'll ever receive: the ones we want to display and point out to every coworker or visitor. Those construction-paper cards and paper-plate picture frames delight us because they say, "You are loved and trusted by a child. One of the gentlest, most vulnerable creatures in the world has faith in you."
How much more delighted God must be when one of us, whom He created with such care and whose every breath He watches with rapt attention, turns to Him and says, "Look, I did my best, and I did it just for You." We don't have to be afraid of His reaction when we sincerely offer Him the best we can do. We know from our own experiences with children that those misspelled words, barely decipherable pictures, and stray gobs of dried glue on that homemade card do nothing to make us treasure it any less. They may even make the card more precious because they demonstrate just how hard the child must have worked with her still-developing skills to create it.
When St. Faustina saw the Divine Mercy image for the first time, she wept because the painter had not captured Christ's beauty. Jesus, however, was unconcerned. He knew that St. Faustina had commissioned the painting out of deep devotion to His will and that the painter had done the best he was capable of with the talents his Master had given him; the value of the image depended not on accuracy but on the love it represented between the Father and His children. "Not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush lies the greatness of this image, but in My grace" (Diary, 313). Jesus' words of consolation to St. Faustina assure us that God will redeem all of our imperfect attempts at loving Him. We only need to give Him our hearts so that He has material to work with.
Later, when St. Faustina was speaking to "a certain person who was to paint the image but, for certain reasons, was not painting it," Jesus said to St. Faustina, "I want her to be more obedient" (Diary, 354). He did not say He wanted the would-be artist to paint more skillfully or more quickly. He only said He wanted her to be obedient: to freely offer her will, her time, and her efforts to His service. In other words, to love Him. His part would be to turn the product of that love, no matter how flawed, into "a vessel with which [people] are to keep coming for graces to the fountain of mercy" (Diary, 327). Her simple gift would, in the hands of God, become a tool of salvation for countless souls.
Modern life heaps pressure upon pressure on us, especially at this time of year. But in the midst of all the shopping, baking, cleaning, and running around, one thing we don't need to worry about is figuring out what Jesus wants for Christmas. We already know what it is: ourselves.
We give Him that gift through obedience, when we stop the Christmas craziness long enough to bring our families and ourselves to the Sacraments. We can also do it by offering every Christmas errand and frustration to Him. He knows what our lives are like, and He can turn every fulfilled responsibility and hectic moment into ceaseless, powerful prayer when we choose to dedicate them to Him as the little drummer boy dedicates his music.
And we don't need to feel guilty or inadequate if our children cry during Christmas Mass or if the confession we make during Advent is the first one we've made in a long time. The little drummer boy tells what happens when he finishes his song: "Then He smiled at me ... me and my drum." We, too, can trust Baby Jesus to smile at every feeble, clumsy gift we bring to Him with all our hearts. He sees the misspellings and stray glue on our Christmas cards and treasures them, for they tell Him, "Jesus, I trust in You."
Marian Tascio is a writer and English teacher who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.