The Christmas Story’s Best Supporting Actor

Photography © by Andy Coan

In the drama of the incarnation, Jesus is, of course, the star.  That’s the way it is at every birth.  All eyes are on the baby.  The co-star, though, is definitely mom.  Without her love and labor, the event could not have happened.  In this case, without mom’s faith it couldn’t have happened either.  According to Luke’s Gospel, an angel brought her stunning news.  She believed the unbelievable and said “let it be.”

But there is a best supporting actor in the drama as well.  True, Joseph was not the biological father.  But the messiah had to be of David’s royal line.  In ancient Israel, a child’s clan was determined by that of his father.  So it was Joseph who legally bound Jesus to the house of David.  It was because of Joseph that the family had to go to Bethlehem for the census, that the prophecy might be fulfilled.

God carefully selected the woman who would be the mother of his Son.  But he must have been equally careful in his selection of the foster-father.  For genes are not the only thing parents impart to their children.  Jesus, in his humanity, had to grow in wisdom, age, and grace (Luke 2:52).  Joseph must have responsible for a good deal of this growth.  It was Joseph who was Jesus’ male role model.  From Joseph Jesus learned many things, including the trade that he would practice for some twenty years.

But there are even more important things that Jesus learned from Joseph.  For Joseph was a just man, an honest man, a courageous man, a man of integrity.  His betrothed was pregnant but not by him. Imagine the shame, the hurt, and the anger that he must have experienced assuming what anyone would assume in such a situation.  His integrity would not allow him to marry an adulteress and pretend the child was his.  Neither would he expose the woman he loved to shame and punishment.  He did not procrastinate or waffle.  He made the difficult decision to divorce Mary quietly.

But then came the messenger. In Luke’s Gospel, there was an angelic Annunciation to Mary.  In the first chapter of Matthew, we learn that Joseph gets one too.  He was named after the greatest dreamer of the Old Testament.  Maybe that’s why his annunciation came in a dream.

Mary’s great claim to fame is her faith.  When told the unbelievable, she believed.

Joseph’s claim to fame is also his faith.  He too was also told the unbelievable and dared to believe.  His response of faith entailed taking action – he change his plans, received Mary into his home, and accepted responsibility for this special child.  Keep this in mind, though, that Mary needed no revelation to be sure this was a virginal conception.  All Joseph had to go by was what he received from an angel, in a dream.

Do you think he may have been tempted at some point to second guess this experience, especially when things did not go smoothly?  After all, when a plan is from God, are not doors supposed to open?  Yet when they arrived in Bethlehem, the door of the inn was slammed in their face.  If this were God’s child, wouldn’t God provide a room?  And if this were really God’s son, wouldn’t God have turned back Herod’s hit men?

Then the angel shows up again in another dream: “flee to Egypt with Mary and the baby.”

Wasn’t the 70 mile walk to Bethlehem with a pregnant woman enough?  If this was God’s doing, shouldn’t there be an easier way?

Joseph may or may not have thought these things.  I would have.  The point is, Joseph believed and acted.  And when the angel came a third time and told him to make the long trek back to Nazareth, he acted again.

Joseph certainly did a lot of walking.  From Nazareth to Bethlehem to Egypt and back again.  Paul said we walk by faith, not by sight.  Joseph is a model of faith because he keeps walking, even in the dark.

Editors Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year A) — Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalms 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-24

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit or call 1.800.803.0118.

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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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