Joseph smiling! Here is his statue found on the facade of the 13th century gothic cathedral of Reims in France. We might imagine that Joseph has just seen Mary from a distance and is smiling to greet her. Or that he is delivering the good news of having found a shelter for his pregnant wife in Bethlehem. Or that the young Jesus has just spoken his first word.
A human face contains forty three muscles which makes us capable of tremendous unspoken expression. One could say that our ability to smile is among the very important aspects of being human. But our minds control our smiling, so like our thoughts, our smiles can be used for good or ill. Joseph is surely smiling for good in the Reims statue.
But smiles can also be used wrongly. A smile can trick or manipulate. A smile can be used to conceal hate or dishonesty. A smile can be a smirk: "I know something you don't know."
I had a pastor years ago who smiled even when people were objecting angrily to some decision he made. It left them feeling as if he wasn't hearing them or didn't take their concerns seriously.
But a real smile communicates pleasure, friendship and affection. Remember the gospel scene where Jesus met the young man who asked about following as a disciple. And when Jesus realized the fellow wasn't up to it, that he couldn't give it up, he "looked at him with love." (Mark 10:21) No doubt Jesus' look was accompanied by a kind smile.
There's an awful lot of scowling today, eye-rolling, scrunched brows, tysk-ing and frowning. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. wrote: "I would have considered a vocation to the ministry, except that so many of them resembled more the undertaker." We need more smiles: genuine, open and warm.
But of course, how we smile depends upon what's going on inside us: what we're thinking about, how much we are distracted or controlled by resentments. Complainers, grumblers and critics usually don't smile - warmly anyway. We don't have to suffer such discontent!
And let's be honest - if we don't smile at people, we have no cause or right to expect others will smile at us.