The Advent message of comfort, hope and redemption finds fulfillment in community
All the redemption stories in the bible are about community. The Exodus from Egyptian bondage is the supreme redemption story, and it is about a community; God acting in time and space to free a people from oppression and bondage. Yes, there are stories of individuals, but these are only segments of the greater framework of communal experience.
Similarly with the Babylonian Exile. The message of redemption and restoration so prominent in Second Isaiah , Jeremiah and the post-exilic prophets finds its fullest expression within a community.
Visualize the picture in Baruch 5:1-9 (the First Reading for the Second Sunday of Advent): "For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level the ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God". It is the same picture in Isaiah 40 and echoed in Luke 3:1-6 (the Gospel Reading of the Second Sunday of Advent): "Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth".
What we see here is a visual image of a highway being constructed for the exilees to walk back to their homeland. There would not be any need for a highway for an individual.
Salvation or redemption in the Hebrew Bible, or for the people of Israel was first and foremost physical. We are looking here, at physical liberation from slavery in Egypt and physical freedom to go back to Judah, from exile in Babylon. It is not any different from a nation that gains independence from a colonial power. It is the experience of a community of people more than an individual experience.
Today, the spiritual has superseded the physical. Not that the spiritual was absent in those great redemption experiences. There was the spiritual dimension, like the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Nevertheless, the physical experience led to the spiritual. We could even conclude that the physical redemption was the necessary first step toward the spiritual redemption. Indeed, this is what Moses said to Pharaoh: "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel; 'Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me, in the wilderness'" (Exodus 5:1).
Even the spiritual redemption is still in the context of a community, not individual.
During Advent, Christians share the fulfillment of the redemption stories in the birth, life and person of Jesus and await in hope for his second coming in glory. For many, this experience is spiritual only and are even content to do away with any physical aspirations. All this is facilitated by emphasizing personal salvation and a personal telos (Greek for distant horizon) devoid of communal expression.
A Christian needs a personal relationship with Christ, that is for sure. Yet, that needs to find expression in community; it is to be practiced in community not in isolation.
The question people of faith ask themselves in this season is: How is the message of redemption today speaking about and to those afflicted with hunger, poverty, disease, or ignorance? The Canticle for the Second Sunday of Advent speaks of giving "people knowledge of salvation" (Luke 1:68-69). How is this message of comfort, hope and redemption finding expression in our community?
We are created and meant to find expression and fulfillment in community with one another, not in isolation. It is a good lesson to remember during the Advent Season.