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Last year a good friend introduced me to a song that has become my new favorite Christmas carol. It’s also the shortest one I’ve ever heard, at just over a minute long. According to Wikipedia , “Adam Lay Ybounden” is a 15th century song attributed to an anonymous wandering minstrel. The words and the music are both charming. The setting that I know is sung by The King’s College Choir. The music sampler on Amazon allows you to hear most of the song, especially the glorious ending in which the boy soprani tank up and soar to the heights of their range. The song puts an interesting Marian twist on the idea of felix culpa—that without our sin, we would not have known the marvels of God’s redemption—and does so in amusing middle English. As we ponder herald angels and shepherds in the fields abiding, “Adam Lay Ybounden” gives us one more reason to pause and give thanks, a reason we probably would not have thought of on our own.

Adam lay ybounden,
Bounden in a bond;
Four thousand winter,
Thought he not too long.

And all was for an apple,
An apple that he took.
As clerkes finden,
Written in their book.

Ne had the apple taken been,
The apple taken been,
Ne had never our ladie,
Abeen heav’ne queen.

Blessed be the time
That apple taken was,
Therefore we moun singen.
Deo gracias!



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