By Will Small
So advent is about an ‘expectant waiting.’ It’s waiting with a sense of faith that Christ entered and enters the world. That hope is on its way. That there is ‘good news of great joy’ (Luke 2:10). Christmas morning will come and with it a renewed celebration of the unfolding sacred work taking place throughout the universe. We celebrate abstract ideals like love, joy and peace and yet the Christmas story itself is distinctly earthy: filled with the sweat of labour and birth, the pungent aroma of an animal feeding trough, the sounds of a newborn crying.
Recently, Facebook changed its name to Meta and released a vision for the not too distant future. ‘The metaverse’. In a nut-shell the metaverse will aim to fully realise the potential of virtual reality, creating an elaborate world for us to live, work and play in. Without ever leaving your home you will be able to traverse a myriad of digital spaces, meet with friends, and spend your hard earned dollars on digitally decorating your virtual house.
The metaverse is under construction. It’s coming. You could say there is an ‘expectant waiting’ for the advent of the metaverse; that it is Zuckerberg’s ‘good news of great joy’.
It strikes me this Advent season that the good news of the metaverse is a kind of inversion of the good news of Christ. The doctrine of Incarnation is in my mind one of the most energising and beautiful aspects of Christian theology. ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’ (John 1:14). The Incarnation is an affirmation that the body is good. That the holy presence of God dwells in the ordinary places of human activity and community. As I seek to imitate Jesus in my life, the first step is ‘incarnation’. ‘Becoming flesh’ is more complex than mindlessly inhabiting this collection of cells. It’s the process of becoming increasingly present to the physicality of my life, to the strengths, wounds and stories held within this body, and to embodying a deep ‘dwelling’ in the places my life takes place, with a reverence for the holy that is revealed in the earthy and ordinary stuff of life.
Interestingly, in the metaverse there too will be a form of ‘incarnation’. You will design your avatar, and it will represent who you are in the online space. Rather than ‘becoming flesh and moving into the neighbourhood’ you will ‘become pixels and move into the cybersphere’.
Sure, this may present interesting opportunities — perhaps most significantly increasing accessibility for those who are physically impaired or disabled. This could genuinely be one of the greatest of gifts of this kind of technology.
On the other hand, I fear that the metaverse by and large could be a way to further alienate us from our bodies, and exploit our consumer tendencies in new ways — motivated not by God’s love of creation, but a certain company’s love of profit.
For this, I don’t wait with hopeful expectation. I wait with a concerned trepidation.
This Advent, I find my hope and anticipation for renewal and restoration in the earthy Incarnation of Jesus, rather than in the good news according to Zuck.