This is our final Advent reflection for 2023, on the theme of Joy for this fourth week of Advent. All Nations’ missionaries, hub staff, and friends have contributed to this series to help you connect with Jesus as you prepare to celebrate His coming.
The Sparkle of Joy
by Lisa Smart | Advent Week 4: Joy
I recently did an exercise to recall memories when I experienced deep joy. 100% of those memories were with other people (or God), relating, face-to-face. They included: dancing (several dancing memories), talking to God in a coffee shop, telling my (now) husband I loved him for the first time, seeing my son’s face as he was overjoyed seeing the train come around the tracks (again and again), and seeing a group yell ‘surprise’ as I entered my amazing (truly surprising) 35th birthday party. All of these memories featured the faces of others who were glad to be with me.
In their book, “The Other Half of Church,” Jim Wilder and Michael Hendrichs explore practices we can integrate into our discipleship that center on the right (relational) side of our brain, where character and identity are built. The first practice they say people need to build is JOY. They define joy as “what I feel when I see the sparkle in someone’s eye that conveys ‘I’m happy to be with you’” (p. 52). They say, “Brain science reveals that this joy sensation (seeing another’s face light up when they see you) is crucial for emotional and relational development. Our brain looks specifically to the face of another person to find joy, and this fills up our emotional gas tank. The face is key” (p. 56).
Face to Face with Jesus
I am struck that one of the beautiful aspects of the incarnation is that Jesus came to be face-to-face with us. He knew the mechanism by which he had designed our brains to receive joy, and he came to show us his face:
Just picture these moments:
Jesus looking disciples in the face as he called and chose them to follow Him.
Jesus searching out Zacchaeus and eating with him, declaring his love.
Jesus looking at the Samaritan woman, receiving her help, and giving her living water.
That joy continues to be offered by God to us as we look at Jesus in Scripture and sense Him looking at us as we hear our Good Shepherd’s voice. 2 Corinthians 4:6 says, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”
In Advent, we also anticipate and look forward to the day when we see Him face to face and our joy is complete. As Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12a).
Face to Face with Others
We can also build joy in this Advent season by delighting in those we are with, and in receiving the sparkle of joy in others’ eyes as they see us. God created us to develop relationally and emotionally from experiencing joy with others, to be in community and relationship. The gift of joy is one of the many gifts we give and receive as we attempt to obey Jesus by loving others.
As we anticipate Christmas, let us give and receive joy by delighting in the faces that surround us and in the face of God, which is always turned our way! And let us long for the day when we see Jesus face to face.
Written by Lisa Smart, Communications Director for the All Nations Hub.