The Advent Gospel According to Josh Groban: "Bells of New York City"

For these three weeks leading to Christmas Day, we will listen for the gospel in songs outside of the hymnal and traditional holiday favorites.

"Do you still listen to Josh Groban?"

My friend, Meredith, knew me well. We'd met as freshmen in college, the same year that Josh Groban released his debut album. I wonder if I should send a letter of apology to my hall mates for how loudly I played that CD--and turned most of his songs into duets. Yes, my hairbrush made an excellent microphone! When Meredith asked if I still "listened" to him, what she really asked was, "Are you still attempting back-up vocals ten years later?"

"Not really. Why?" I asked.

"I love his new song about New York City."

As we talked, I searched iTunes and found the song, "Bells of New York City," on his newest album, Illuminations. I listened to a sample.

"That's a pretty song," I told her. I couldn't honestly say that I loved it after the first listen.

"I can't believe that I'm telling you about Josh Groban's music!"

Despite my lack of interest, I downloaded the entire album. The more I listened, the more I enjoyed it. I even pulled out my older Josh Groban CDs and started listening again --with only minimal duets this time.

No matter how much I listened, "Bells of New York City" did not strike the chord with me that it did with Meredith. With time and new musical releases, Illuminations lost its luminosity for me. The album sat unheard on my computer for three years.

A few weeks ago, I sat down to plan for Advent worship services and came across Illuminations in my iTunes folder. Though it was not a "Christmas" album, I remembered its release close to this time of year.

I clicked "play."

I finally heard what I think Meredith heard.

I finally loved "Bells of New York City."

At the heart of music is mystery. A song speaks to us, and we can't find the words to describe why or how. All we know to say is that we love what we hear. Certain melodies arouse memories, and particular lyrics speak to our thoughts. My friend heard something special in a song in 2010 that I didn't hear until 2014. Just as she didn't try to explain what spoke to her in "Bells of New York City," I can't explain what rang true for me. All I know is what I love.

The season of Advent is one of deep mystery. The Word becomes flesh. A virgin conceives. A king's reign begins in a stable. Eternity steps into time. Instead of trying to explain the mystery, we must experience the mystery. How patiently God waits for us to hear the gospel that has rung through the ages. How quietly he watches as his Light illuminates our hearts.

Sing to me one song for joy
And one for redemption
And whatever's in between that I call mine
With the street lamp light
To illuminate the gray
And the bells of New York City
Are calling me to stay..... *

Stay with the gray of Advent's mystery. Listen for the Christ child's cry in the bells of life. Live between the joy and the redemption of the gospel.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

* For copyright information on this and all of Josh Groban's music, visit *