“Do not be afraid because your prayers have been heard.” Luke 1:13
There are times when the Scriptures remind me of great works of art, especially symphonies. Musical masterpieces weave major and minor themes throughout the score. It seems to me, Scripture does the same thing. In this case, the Scriptures weave in the themes of barrenness and fruitfulness.
One of the first Scripture passages that illustrates this for me is the story of Abraham and Sarah in the Book of Genesis, chapter 18. We read how the elderly Abraham welcome some strangers into his tent and gave them something to eat. Sarah did the cooking. As these strangers were leaving, they told Abraham that they would return next year, and by then he would have a son born of his wife Sarah. Sarah was barren. In this account, both Abraham and Sarah laughed at the absurdity of very old woman giving birth. A year later, they were no longer laughing, but taking care of a baby boy, their son, Isaac.
Our first reading is taken from the Book of Judges. It is an account of a woman who is barren but continues to pray for children. Her prayer is heard, and she gives birth to a son. She consecrated him to God and gave him the name of Samson. He proved to be a protector of the people of Israel.
In today’s Gospel reading, we have the dramatic birth of John the Baptist, born of the barren wife of Zechariah, Elizabeth. Her condition was introduced to us just verses before, right before the Annunication to Mary that she was to be the Mother of God. Even though Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for children, they had lost hope after Elizabeth had passed her child-bearing years. God let them both know that there is nothing impossible with God! So, a son was born to them, John the Baptist.
Advent is a time of prayer and hope. It is the perfect time for the Church to reflect upon the interplay between barrenness and fruitfulness. There is so many things that seem barren at first glance. In a short, profound book, The Desert is Fertile, Dom Helder Camera, Archbishop of Recife, Brazil, reflected how much life can come from those place in our life we consider barren. Scientists constantly remind us of how much life there is in places where there does not seem to have any life. And if we look deeply within ourselves, we discover that the areas we have named barren have been fruitful after all.
Advent is an invitation to us to look deeper into our own barrenness. The more we pray for the arrival of the God of Life, the more alive we will become. We will realize that Jesus can be born in a stable, that shepherd can hear the choirs of angels singing in the fields, and people from far away countries have gifts to give.
God is always full of surprises!
Fr. Clemente Barrón, C.P. is a member of Christ the King Community in Citrus Heights, California.