Guido Reni (1575-1642)
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’
When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
Thank you! I am indeed honored to receive this high prize, and I want to begin my remarks with thanks to all who helped me win this Oscar. I believe that’s the usual protocol—yes? I’ve been watching through the years, of course, but from quite a distance, so I’m not terribly sure of myself here. But I do want to do this properly, so let me start by saying thanks to my wife Mary, to the angel who came to my dreams, to St. Matthew and St. Luke for writing me into their script, and to the Grand Director who cast me in my supporting role in the epic “Christmas Story.”
But now, having proffered my thanks, I would like to add a confession. Yes, a confession. A confession because from what I’ve seen and heard during the last 2000 years, I think most people have considered me a pretty saintly man. A bit of a plodding, milk-toasty old graybeard, to be sure, but a man, nonetheless, of deep, unquestioning faith, and a man who thought little of himself and only wanted to do what was right for his beloved wife and her son. Even without the Oscar, I’ve been on a pedestal of sorts.
Tonight I’d like to come off that pedestal and set the record straight. Yes, I did what was right in taking care of Mary, but, truth be told, I wasn’t always happy doing what I was asked to do. I was often brooding, in fact, brooding about personal disappointments I had to accept as “Christmas Story” played itself out. And unswerving faith? Well, not exactly. Under the halo you see in almost all the paintings of me, I certainly had my doubts—plenty of them, even though these were never recorded. Thank goodness Guido Reni left the halo out of his painting!
So here’s my story. My family was very proud of our ancestry, and with good reason. Even without the aid of Ancestry.com, we were able to trace our lineage all the way back to King David a thousand years before our time. This was so very important because we all believed that the Messiah God had promised to send, the Messiah who would sit again on David’s throne, was to be born the son of a father who carried the Great King’s DNA. As young teens, my cousins and I used to wonder if one of us just might turn out to be that blessed person. Used to wonder just which village girl would be a suitable wife to possibly bear our precious child-king.
My choice of Mary had everyone’s approval, and she and I were looking forward to our life together, dreaming about our children and wondering if maybe, just maybe, I was to be The One who would father the awaited Messiah. Yes, we were happy kids, and all felt so right in our young lives. Until. Until the day she blushingly announced to me that she was pregnant. Of course, she told me about an angel and claimed the child was part of some divine mystery beyond her understanding. I remember that she was clearly embarrassed and somewhat distraught about the whole thing, but I remember, too, that she also seemed quite excited—even told me she felt blessed! Now, I have to tell you, that was pretty hard to swallow. She felt blessed to be carrying a child—but not my child? After careful deliberation, I decided, as St. Matthew puts it, simply to “dismiss her quietly.”
And then that dream. The angel telling me that Mary’s child was somehow divinely conceived and was the One for whom we had been waiting. Mary’s child. Not my child. And then the angel instructing me to go ahead with the marriage. I was relieved, of course, to learn that Mary hadn’t been unfaithful, but I was also terribly disappointed. For even if it was all true, and Mary’s son really did become our king—and yes, I confess that I had plenty of doubts about that, since all I had to go on was a dream and my fiancée’s talk of some mystical experience— but even if it all did turn out to be true, I knew my personal dreams were shattered and the honor I had so long coveted was not to be.
Of course, I did as the angel told me to do, and you know the rest of the story. The birth of our High Hopes in that Bethlehem manger. The long flight to Egypt to avoid Herod’s sword. And then the parenting years in Nazareth. None of it easy—not for Mary, not for me. There were times when I had more questions than I had answers, times when I thought I must have just imagined that angel in my dreams, times when God seemed more unreal than real. I mean, a barn for Messiah’s birth? And those miserable, lonely immigrant years in Egypt? How could I not wonder if God really was at work in our lives? Believe me, there were many, many dark, dark days.
Overall, I think I did a pretty good job of supporting my wife through all of this. And I appreciate the kudos I have gotten through the years and the honor of this night. But I’m grateful also for this opportunity to tell you some of what was never recorded—the questions and doubts I wrestled with, the bitterness I sometimes felt as I watched my dream get swallowed up by God’s Bigger Dream.
So. Now I’ve come clean, and that has felt good. Thank you for listening to my story. And to all you Josephs out there (male or female), all you tarnished saints trying to support God’s dream while wrestling with your sometimes profound doubts and disappointments, I want you to know that I do understand what you are going through, and every day, along with many other Josephs who have struggled through the centuries, I am cheering you on, praying for you, and hoping you’ll find the strength and courage you need to carry on. For “Christmas Story” isn’t over. The drama continues, and your role is so important, even when it doesn’t feel that way. Please know that you are not alone, and please know as well that I accept this award tonight, not just for myself, but for each one of you Josephs who continue in your supporting roles. God bless you all, and thank you again.