One of my favorite Christmas songs is "The Little Drummer Boy." The simple lyrics, punctuated by nearly two dozen pa rum pum pum pums, tell the story of a poor little drummer boy who had no gift to give the infant Jesus, the newborn King, on the first Christmas. The little drummer boy ultimately "played my best for him me and my drum."
The Little Drummer Boy, as charming as the song might be, is fictional. The baby, however, grew to manhood and became the Savior of the world. It is estimated that 2.1 billion people around the world claim to be Christians - followers of Christ. Somewhere around 80 percent of Americans claim to be Christians, though individual levels of commitment vary significantly.
This Christmas we might ask, "What does Jesus want for Christmas from his followers this year?" At the risk of being flippant, I would venture that Jesus wants what he's always wanted - me and my drum. He wants my life and my actions.
During his time on earth, Jesus never pulled any punches in regard to what he expected of his followers. When asked what the Greatest Commandment was, he said it was to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Second only to that, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Loving ourselves can be tough enough sometimes but loving and caring for our neighbor ... well? I wonder if that's why some Christians become deeply legalistic. It is often easier to live by a set of "thou shalt nots" than to love our neighbors.
Here in the U.S., the First Amendment to our Constitution guarantees our right - and our neighbor's right - to worship (or not to worship) as we wish. Yet, some Christians can get downright ugly when a member of another church rings their doorbell to share their faith or when they learn that the new family on the block is Muslim? Or that a co-worker is an atheist. Oops! Folks who don't believe as we do are our neighbors, too. Jesus says to love them.
That commandment to love our neighbor includes our gay neighbors. Jesus didn't tell us we have to agree with our neighbors - just to love them. As he does.
Our neighbors include persons of other races and ethnicities. Jesus allowed no exceptions for those differences just as he made no exceptions for loving neighbors of other political persuasions. Announcement: Jesus is not a Republican or a Democrat.
Christians can even be spiteful toward other followers who worship God with different worship and music styles, different traditions of baptism and communion or even different days of worship. Then there's the animosity between liberal Christians and conservative Christians. Not much love there.
The New Testament story of the woman at the well (John 4) illustrates what Jesus expects of us. Jews and Samaritans had extreme contempt for each other in those days. When a Samaritan woman came to the well where Jesus was sitting he began chatting with her. She was startled and asked how it was that he, a Jew, could talk to her, a Samaritan. A Samaritan woman, no less.
Jesus knew she had a sordid past. She had the kind of reputation that would drive many Christians today in another direction. Still he spoke to her with love and respect. As a result, many Samaritans became believers and followers of Jesus.
I like the German word for Christian - Christlich - which translates roughly to Christly. If we claim to be a Christian our life and lifestyle should be more Christly or Christ-like. Unfortunately, none of us will ever be perfect in this regard, but that's where God's grace comes in.
So, it's Christmas again. What can we give Christ this Christmas? How about taking him seriously on what he said is important to him?
Imagine a world where the people who claim to follow Jesus truly loved their neighbors as themselves.
Pa rum pum pum pum.