At first they assigned me “Adam Lay Ybounden” for my advent devotional. I assumed they wouldn’t like what I did with it, so I sent them my rough draft and offered to take a different song assignment. I was right…18 minutes later they gave me “Carol of the Bells.” I’m still laughing.
Personally, I liked my original. Here’s the hymn and my rough draft.
Adam lay ybounden,
bounden in a bond,
Four thousand winter
thought he not too long;
And al was for an apple,
an apple that he took,
As clerkes finden writen,
writen in hire book.
Ne hadde the apple taken been,
the apple taken been,
Ne hadde nevere Oure Lady
ybeen hevene Queen.
Blessed be the time
that apple taken was:
Therefore we mown singen
My rejected devotional:
Listen, I grew up at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Texico, New Mexico. I’ve moved away, but my dad is still the pastor there. We still have prayer meeting on Wednesday nights, and we move it an hour later in the summer so the farmers can use all the daylight. I bet you fifty bucks this one isn’t in the Baptist hymnal we still use. Ybounden isn’t even a word, is it?
Can I, a twenty-first century Evangelical Christian, find any value in this fifteenth century Catholic hymn from a British minstrel?
First, every preacher I know would be quick to point out, “We don’t know it was an apple!” That’s what we do. Second, we would protest that the Bible never calls Mary “Heaven’s queen.” Sounds too Catholic. Are we supposed to pray to her next?
The biggest obstacle to this 4-H preacher is the idea that we would bless “the time that apple taken was.” We curse the time the apple taken was. No sin is blessed, much less that sin which caused the fall of mankind.
Yet, like C.S. Lewis, I can find it in my heart to bless the God who made it possible for man to fall so far. The idea of Felix Culpa (blessed fall) may have made sense to Thomas Aquinas, but the fall didn’t result in the murder of Aquinas’ son as it did with Adam and Eve.
Lewis put it this way: “The better stuff a creature is made of—the cleverer and stronger and freer it is—then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong.”
“Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk.”
Like me and my friends at Pleasant Hill, the minstrel who wrote this song didn’t have all of his theology straight. He was probably too susceptible to the influence of some popular preacher of his day. But I think I have this in common with him. We are both struck by something profoundly beautiful and ironic in the redemption story. This world has potential for grievous, unspeakable evil, but God’s plan is vast enough to include even the fruit thief who sold out the planet.
That fifteenth century minstrel did what people do when they see something beautiful and mysterious. He wrote a song about it.
God’s plan is big enough that even Adam’s sin is swallowed up in the story. And that’s good news because I know another fruit thief who is given to selling out the world for a bite of apple.
If you’d like to read the devotional that was not rejected, click here.
It’s just as inspiring, but less…ughhhh…rejectable. Here’s a quote:
What kind of woman entrusts a song as magnificent as “Carol of the Bells” to a dozen west Texas farm kids?
A saint. That’s what kind of woman.