Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

Maybe in an effort to not be constantly reminded of weddings, George Winston created a piano variation of Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, simply named Joy. While I love’s Bach’s piece, Winston’s has become one of my Advent favorites. The way he weaves the familiar tune in and out of joyful variations moves my heart.

The song begins with a faster tempo than usual and about 20 seconds in we begin to hear the melody of Bach’s piece coming through Winston’s melody on the piano. Just as we know Bach’s piece, we know for whom we wait. Jesus weaves Himself at first faintly in and out under the melody of our lives. As Advent starts, we catch glimpses of Him, sometimes faint, the Lord beginning to weave His birth into our hearts.

And then Bach’s tune grows stronger, and about 40 seconds in we can clearly hear Bach’s melody dominate the song and we know what we are listening to. Just as we get closer to Christmas, the reality of the birth of our Savior begins to dominate our lives. We see decorations and give gifts, we hear the prophets proclaim the Savior in the readings at Mass. We know the tune of the Spirit at Christmas. It is a melody that moves us to generosity and patience, hope and love—however perfectly or imperfectly we listen and harmonize our lives with the Spirit.

And then at about 1:13, the tones get a little deeper, slightly slower, still filled with joy, but the musical piece feels different. Here, we feel the gravity of the reality of the birth of Jesus. The Savior of the world, God Himself, becomes flesh to save us from our sins. We needed God. And He came.

But we are not stuck in this overwhelming awe for long. We are comforted by the familiar melody of Bach once again. And we know the familiar tune of our joy and hope. We know that Christ is coming!

And with that realization of the coming of the Lord, at about 2:10, Winston’s song takes a joyful life of it’s own. The song builds into a joyful expression, an expression of the joy of Emmanuel, God with us! A joy that can’t always be contained in the familiar melodies. Sometimes the Spirit moves our lives in a melody that we don’t recognize. But just because it is unfamiliar, that does not make it less beautiful. The beauty in the piece, in life, is that it sometimes breaks and crescendos in a way that isn’t expected. The Lord surprises us!

This third week of Advent, the rose candle reminds us: Gaudete! Rejoice! How can we not be joyful knowing for whom we wait?

The scripture from last Sunday’s Mass is infused with the joy of our desiring, reminding us that our waiting is indeed joyful, because what we wait for, what we desire, is the coming of Jesus.

Isaiah tells us in the first reading from Sunday: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.” The Spirit weaves Himself into the tune of our lives as we bring glad tidings, heal the brokenhearted and proclaim liberty. And then the familiar words of Mary, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,” strengthens the melody of praise that weaves itself through Scripture. A melody that in its familiarity grows stronger in our own lives.

And then in the Gospel, John the Baptist reminds us of the gravity of He who comes. Even he, the one who “came to testify to the light,” is not worthy to untie the sandal strap of Jesus.

All of this leads to the crescendo of Mass: the Eucharist, the Bread of Life that feeds us. The joy of God with us at the altar gives us strength to carry the crescendo into our own lives, breaking ourselves from what might be familiar to allow the Spirit to move–to find ourselves breaking our lives from the melody we know, only to make something more beautiful, more joyful, for God.