“Advent and Barrenness” Contest Winner

Reading all of your submissions for the “Advent and Barrenness” writing contest was like receiving Christmas cards from all over the nation. You shared your lives with us; you encouraged us; you exhorted us; you gave us pause from the gift wrapping to ponder the gift of our Lord Jesus, Emmanuel. Thank you for taking the time to reflect on “Advent and Barrenness” with us this holy season. It truly was a joy and honor to read your words.

We received too large a number of submissions to be able to name a top five, so, instead, we thought it would be nice to share a week’s worth of our favorite posts, starting today with our winner, Emily Olson. Congratulations, Emily, on winning a free copy of He Remembers the Barren, and thank you for allowing us to share your beautiful post below.

A blessed Christmas,

Your HRTB Hosts

Advent is a strange time. On the one hand, we’re surrounded with the bedazzling sparkle of a brilliantly adorned commercial culture. The vivid colors, the mouth-watering smells, the warm and appealing auras tantalizingly promise us comfort and happiness. On the other hand, our days are dark and often cold, the natural world shriveled up in dormancy and death. We don’t like to think about this. It’s too stark, too cutting, and too real. It reminds us that we—and all of our dazzling façades—are dust, and to dust we shall eventually return. 

This Advent is a strange one for me. As I write this, my unborn daughter twists and rolls in my uneasy form. Her birth is forthcoming; she will show her face to us any day now.  And a lump comes to my throat and hope rises in my soul at the thought of seeing her, of holding her tiny hands and form. My body prepares to bear her, to care for her, and my heart longs to do this. 

But my anticipation is checked by constant, awful reminders of reality. Wombs of family members and friends remain achingly empty. Dear friends grieve for their miscarried child. Others suffer in the silences left by the death of a stillborn child, a weeks-old child, a terminally-ill nine-month-old child. And my family marks the sixth anniversary of the due date of our first child. That this child I now carry has followed the timeline of her sister so closely, I count as loss and as blessing. For what we have lost I cannot forget; what we have been given I own as pure gift. But I cannot rejoice in this gift as I should because I am afraid of losing a daughter again. I am afraid of facing dying and death, of the barrenness of loss.

Yet I am reminded precisely during Advent, in the very starkness of darkness and death behind the attractive façade of the secular holiday season, of Who came to bear our losses and barrenness. Isaiah foretold of the coming Christ: 

Surely He has borne our griefs
   and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed Him stricken,
   smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions;
   He was crushed for our iniquities;
upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
   and with His stripes we are healed.

And this, I think, is the real paradox of Advent—a time of watchfulness, preparedness, and hopefulness, and yet a time of penitence, solemnity, and mystery as we prepare for our Savior’s birth as a mortal, finite child who is God Incarnate. This time reminds us of that Child’s life for death, that His tender, soft baby skin will be marred by scars and thorns. And lest loss and emptiness, dying and death, leave us with pain and fear, we see—again—that in Christ’s death we have life, that in His loss we have hope.   

With His stripes we are healed. We are all healed. Christ comes to us, passing through His mother’s birth canal, passing through the trials of emptiness, loneliness, fear, pain, suffering, and death. He indeed bears our grief and our barrenness in Himself. And He brings us hope—of holding hands we never held, of holding Hands that were scarred for us. Gloria Dei. 

Emily Olson

(Coda: Clara Mary Evangelina Olson was born on December 7th and baptized into Christ on December 8th. Praise be to God for His precious gift of Clara to the Olson family and for His precious gift of new life for Clara in Holy Baptism!)