I’m a scrooge of a pastor this time of the year. You may find me in stores, surrounded by excited holiday bargain shoppers, ranting to myself about the fact that it’s Advent and these carols shouldn’t be played until the 12 days after Christmas.
My least favorite holiday song has always been “The Little Drummer Boy.” It is the most obnoxious of the many long repetitive carols. Who would play a loud drum for a newborn baby?
Imagine Mary. She just trekked across the desert nine-months pregnant on a donkey. Then after giving birth in an unsanitary barn, she is exhaustedly trying to nurture a new baby who will not sleep for more than two hours at a time, when a little boy comes in with a loud drum.
What an impractical gift!
And yet, when I stop to think about it in terms of the adult life of Jesus, it seems that he is someone whose favorite gifts are the most impractical. Mary and Martha are the best example of this. Both sisters give gifts to Jesus, and he chooses the wastefully impractical one (Luke 10:38-42).
My call to ministry is one full of unusual gifts too. Most obviously there is the faux hawk, facial piercings and tattoos.
At times, I know, my own life and ministry seem just as impractical and unconventional as the drummer boy’s gift.
But, my greatest pastoral gift is the ability to look around and see what creative ways our resources can be used and to respond to the very real needs of individuals in our congregation, communities around us and in the world.
When we don’t have the resources we need, I beg for them. When I don’t have the skills I need, I learn them. This means that I am a pastor who is sometimes a plumber, a dishwasher, a hair cutter, a sculptor, a student, an expert hugger, a lobbyist, a cook, a nurse, a parent and an emergency responder.
I’m not saying that all pastors should look like me or use gimmicks or big projects to bring attention to God’s presence in their congregation. And certainly if Garrison Keiler’s descriptions of Lutherans are accurate (and I think they are), ELCA members are not known for their bold unconventionality.
Yet, this Advent season, we are called to march to the beat of a different drummer. Martin Luther used the tunes of pub hymns that people knew how to sing joyfully and changed the words to be about God. However, sometimes when we sing them today they seem to have lost the vim they once had.
We must find ways new ways to spice up our worship services. Though we may have a very real fear that changing things will decrease the number of people in the pews, we should remember that the service is supposed to be a gift to God.
We may find that the impractical gifts that Jesus likes are the same gifts that can inspire faithful individuals in our midst. Those are individuals who have given up on church because they believe it’s boring, has nothing to offer them or cannot speak to what is happening in today’s world.
In the footsteps of the drummer boy, Martha and Luther, I hope you will find your own unusual and impractical ways to have eyes to see and ears to hear this holiday season, and every day.
Megan M. Rohrer is an ELCA pastor called by five congregations and has been a missionary to the homeless in San Francisco since 2002.