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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Little Drummer

2010-12-05 Isaiah 11:1-10, Matthew 3:1-12
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

When I was little, claymation Christmas specials were cool and groovy.
Of course, "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" was the coolest, and still is.
Its classic lines live on.
"Eat, Papa. Eat."
"She thinks I'm cuuttte!"
And, my favorite, "I don't want to make toys! I want to be a dentist!"

There were never very many overtly religious claymation Christmas specials.
Claymation. The Bible.
The just don't go together well.
But there was one.
It was based on Bing Crosby's second-greatest Christmas hit after,
"White Christmas."
It was "The Little Drummer Boy."
There's no drummer boy in scripture.
It's not exactly a Bible story.
It's Bible-ish.
I remember liking this claymation special so much because I could
identify with the little drummer boy.
Not because I could play drums or have a sense of rhythm.
I just thought it was cool that a little kid could do something
special for Jesus.

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,
Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.

We have kids helping lead worship today, and I imagine Jesus smiles at
them, too.
A drum, a hand chime, a song - it doesn't really matter. It's just
pretty cool that a little kid can do something special for Jesus.

There's no little drummer boy in the Bible.
But the prophetic vision of Isaiah comes pretty close when he tells of
a herd of animals marching along behind a little child.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.

Such peace.
There's peace in the kingdom.
Peace in the valley.
Peace and goodwill to all.
It's important to remember that Isaiah's words are part of a bigger song.
And as a song, it's poetry.
And as poetry, it's not based on the real world.
It's real-world-ish.
The creatures that ordinarily bite and devour each other have had the
biting and devouring lifted out of them.
And a little child, maybe the only one who doesn't know enough to be
afraid, is leading the parade.
Again, it's a song; it's poetry.
The point is not that the animals have been let out of their cages and
no one's been eaten.
The point is that there's peace.
The world can sleep in heavenly peace.

That's Isaiah's poetic vision of Christmas.
He may not have gotten all the facts right, but he nailed the concept: Peace.
A peaceful kingdom ushered in by a little child, whose heart beats a
rhythm we now follow.


John the Baptist, on the other hand, must not have read that part of his Bible.
Because when he announces the coming of Christ, he doesn't sound like
Bing Crosby.
He sounds like my grandmother describing rock and roll music - "lots
of crash, boom, bang."

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he
said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the
wrath to come?"

"Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree
therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into
the fire."

John's vision is Jesus overthrowing the blue-bloods. Their strength
will be slashed to the bone. Their birthright will burn with
unquenchable fire.

In John's Christmas vision, Jesus takes no prisoners.
Definitely not cute, claymation child's play.
John sees Jesus smashing the incumbents and molding new characters for
new power.
If Isaiah's vision is like Bing Crosby's, Little Drummer Boy, John's
like an angry rapper shouting, "Fight the Power."

Christmas is heavenly peace.
And, Christmas is no peace at all.
It depends on which scripture you're reading, and which prophet's song
you're singing.
Christmas is peace; Christmas is no peace.
I guess it also depends a lot of peace itself.


Spinoza, a Jewish philosopher said, "Peace is not an absence of war,
it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence,
confidence, justice."

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist teacher, said, "Our capacity to make peace
with another person and with the world depends very much on our
capacity to make peace with ourselves.
"If we are at war with our parents, our family, our society, or our
church, there is probably a war going on inside us also...."

In the book of Jeremiah, the Bible rants against religious leaders who
say, "Peace, peace, when there is no peace."

Peace may not be the absence of war, but the absence of personal peace
certainly leads to a likelihood of warfare.
Peace is not just some abstract feeling.
Every day, you make choices.
You have to consciously choose to create opportunities to be benevolent.
You have to choose to act with confidence, even when you're not feeling it.
You have to choose justice when you're dealing with people, even if
you don't like them.
Without these real-life choices, you're out of sync with peace.
That's why John the Baptist got so mad at the Pharisees; they were
coming to get peace without giving it.

I think that's another reason the story of the Little Drummer Boy
sticks with me.
I like how instead of sitting around thinking about doing something
nice for Jesus, he actually got up and did it.
Wasn't much.
A bunch of pa rum pa pum pum's (21 of them, to be exact, not counting
the ones that are going to be stuck in your head the rest of the day.
You're welcome).
It's not about the size or the cost of the gift. (OK, for some people
it might be. But that's a different sermon.)
And it's not just the thought alone that counts, as in, "Oh, yeah, I
thought about getting you something for Christmas."
Would you say to your mom, "Oh, I thought about texting you on Christmas"??
Good idea?
Let's poll the moms.
It's not about the gift OR the thought, it's that the thought
motivates you to some sort of action.

Peace, without action, is just a nice feeling.
It might make you all warm and fuzzy inside, but so what?
Jesus didn't say, "Blessed are the peace-feelers"; he said, "Blessed
are the peace MAKERS."
If you want peace at Christmas, make peace at Christmas.
That's not always fun.
You might have been at war with someone for a long time.
They might not want to stop fighting, or stop feeling resentment, or
stop their jealousy.
Again, you have to choose peace, you have to choose to act in peace,
if you want peace, regardless of the other person.


I once saw a behind-the-scenes show about how they make those
claymation specials.
Every scene takes hours and hours.
You've got to get the little figure in just the right position, then,
snap the picture.
Then, move the arm just a smidgen.
Snap another picture.
Raise the eyebrow.
Snap another picture.
It's a horribly long, boring process.
Animators have to have incredible patience.
They can't just turn the cameras on the clay figures and expect them
to magically move.
That would be kinda creepy.

In the Bible, it says God took a lump of clay and breathed life into it.
God was the animator of human life.
And I would guess that as God watches our starts and stops, God would
have to have some pretty incredible patience.
So we pray that instead of just standing there, waiting for something
to happen, we pray that God will direct our movements, and put a song
of peace in our hearts.
So that our actions tell a story of thoughts and meaning brought to life.
We may not be much more than lumps of colorful clay, or we may not
have the most to give, but that's not really the point.
Young or old, big or little, we can nail the concept of peace in our actions,
so that it's more than just a nice idea,
it's the rhythm of our footsteps,
the beat of our breath,
the song of our souls.

Here's another song about peace. It's called "The Peace Prayer of
Saint Francis," and was written by a French priest for soldiers in
World War I.
Maybe it was carried by a drummer boy, too.

"O Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace!
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is discord, harmony.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sorrow, joy.

Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life."

May the peace of Christ be with you...

James McTyre
Pastor, Lake Hills PCUSA
Stated Clerk, Presbytery of East TN
Office: 865-577-8510
Cell & SMS: 865-268-9628
Skype: jamesmctyre