Three words and expressions came top of the Oxford Word of the year 2022 competition: ‘Goblin Mode,’ ‘Metaverse’ and #IStandWith. What have they to do with Christmas? Read this talk given at the Sailor’s Church Carol Service on Friday 23rd December.
Oxford Word of the Year – Our contradictory culture
Recently I came across an article about The Oxford Word of the Year. It was a competition run where people could vote on a new word or expression that they felt reflected the mood of our times in 2022. I have to say, the three top words and expressions, were not ones that I was that familiar with, but as I read about them, they did seem to sum up how people are behaving in 2022. At the same time they seemed to be contradictory.
The winner was: Goblin Mode.
Apparently it refers to a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations. You may not have heard of the phrase, but perhaps you have seen people living it out. In the wake of Covid and the enforced lockdowns, many people have looked at their lives and decided to cut out anything that was difficult. They have retired early or given up on volunteer roles, deciding instead to focus on indulging themselves rather than working hard.
In third place, though was #IStandWith.
This is a phrase that was particularly used of peoples’ reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In response to the horror of that war, people wanted to show solidarity and support for people suffering in Ukraine. For some #IstandwithUkraine has involved a willingness to make real sacrifices: Our government being willing to accept rising fuel costs as the price of support for Ukraine and people welcoming Ukrainian refugees into their homes.
These two terms sum up 2022 well, but they also seem contradictory. You cannot embrace Goblin Mode and Stand with those who are suffering. Yet, some people do try and have it both ways. After all it is possible to say, #IStandWith in an abstract way, by putting up a Ukrainian flag or posting on Facebook or Twitter, without being willing to make sacrifices or do anything to really help.
This latter idea of abstract support brings us to the term that came second: Metaverse
The idea of the metaverse is really just an extension of the idea of the world wide web. Already people meet with others virtually using some kind of video call. My daughter recently had some university interviews without leaving the house and I often play chess on my phone with people from all over the world. The metaverse takes this idea and tries to make it a bit more real. It creates an artificial world on the internet, where you interact with others, with a made up image called an Avatar, whilst sitting at home on your computer. You can meet with others, without actually going anywhere or dressing up for the occasion
Perhaps the Metaverse is a way of combining #IStandWith with Goblin Mode. After all it means you can join with others in a virtual meeting, while remaining in bed in your pyjamas and eating ice cream!
God’s Commitment to Us: The Word made Flesh
So what has all this to do with the Christian message of Christmas? Put simply, Christmas is the message that the Son of God rejected Goblin Mode and came to stand with us not in a metaverse kind of way but in a deeply real way. It says at the start of John’s gospel:
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory,
the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
“The Word” of course refers to Jesus, as God’s eternal Son, who has always been there. It was he who came down from heaven and ‘became flesh.’ Jesus’s conception was not the beginning of a new person, which is the case with every other human being, it was the eternal person of the Son of God becoming something new: a human being. This is the great truth at the heart of the Christian celebration of Christmas.
But in what sense did Jesus ‘become human’? Was it as though Jesus was taking on an avatar, sitting in heaven, but appearing as a man on earth – communicating to us from a distance, but in ‘bodily form’ like in the metaverse?
Such an idea is similar to an ancient idea called, ‘Docetism’. It was an idea that was rejected by the early church as completely wrong.
The problem is that if Jesus only became human as a kind of avatar, then he was only standing with us in an illusory and ultimately meaningless way. His life and death were as meaningless as someone playing a computer game and dying in the computer game, perhaps upsetting, but not really suffering or sacrificial.
But Jesus ‘became flesh’ or as the carol puts it:
God of God, Light of Light, Lo! He abhors not the Virgin’s womb.
It sounds messy and bloody and it was, because this was Jesus entering into the messy and bloody reality of human existence. This was certainly not Goblin Mode.
To really bring home this point, we need to understand what John means when he says, “we have seen his glory.” To find out we need to read on in the gospel. It becomes clear that for Jesus the moment he was glorified, was when he died on the cross, a bloody and horrific moment, that as the one who became flesh, Jesus entered into in utter reality. Yet, this was also the moment of grace. It is in his very real death, that Jesus took the punishment for the sins of humanity. He didn’t just stand with humanity, he stood in the place of humanity, in order to bring us forgiveness with God and to offer us a way through death to eternal life.
It was the very real, bloody and effective sacrifice of the cross that reveals to us Jesus’s true glory. All of which was only possible because the Son of God became flesh.
Our Response to God?
When we fully understand this message of Christmas, we can find something really worth celebrating not just in December, but throughout all our lives. Here is God come to truly stand with us in the darkness and messiness of our lives.
But, it is also a challenge to us. If Jesus rejected Goblin Mode to come and live among us, if he truly stands with us, then we need to ask ourselves, will we be willing to not just say, #IstandwithJesus, but fully embrace following Jesus, even though it may mean letting go of Goblin Mode, and rejecting laziness and self-indulgence in order to serve God by helping others and pointing people to him?