Although this isn't technically a "Christmas song," it appears on numerous Christmas albums by various artists. (It also appears on many baby/lullaby albums and wedding play lists.) "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" by J.S. Bach is, musically, an incredibly intricate piece. I loved learning to play it on the piano when I was a child...actually, I still like to play it! Some of my favorite recordings include: George Winston (December album), A Winter's Solstice (first album), Amy Grant (starts quietly with guitar, then triangle and single drum, then pennywhistle...but builds and builds with bagpipes with Celtic flair, adds full orchestra...I dare you to listen to it without tapping your foot!), Canadian Brass (very non-traditional version, with a surprisingly lovely-sounding clarinet!), Josh Groban, Celtic Woman (the harmony is extremely close together, ethereal, and goosebump-producing!), the beautiful Norwegian Sissel, and the list goes on and on. I am unable to find my all-time favorite version...it is sung by a man, but after listening to 30+ versions via Spotify, my search results are coming up empty!
I found several versions of lyrics, although the piece has certainly been performed instrumentally many times as well.
Here are the most commonly heard English lyrics:
Jesu, joy of man's desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
With the fire of life impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying round Thy throne.
Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.
Theirs is beauty's fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom's holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown.
A close-to-literal translation of the original German:
Well for me that I have Jesus,
O how strong I hold to him
that he might refresh my heart,
when sick and sad am I.
Jesus have I, who loves me
and gives to me his own,
ah, therefore I will not leave Jesus,
when I feel my heart is breaking.
—from BWV 147, Chorale movement no 6
Jesus remains my joy,
my heart's comfort and essence,
Jesus resists all suffering,
He is my life's strength,
my eye's desire and sun,
my soul's love and joy;
so will I not leave Jesus
out of heart and face.
—from BWV 147, Chorale movement no. 10