Things did not go as planned the first Christmas.

Probably right around the time Mary and Joseph were settling in to wait for the arrival of their newborn baby, Ceasar Augustus announced that a census was taking place, and Joseph took Mary to the city of Bethlehem for their family to be enrolled. As we know, while they were there Mary went into labor and gave birth to the King of kings in a stable because there wasn’t room for them anywhere else.

Can you imagine?

The obstacles were seemingly endless! Riding a donkey for almost 100 miles during the ninth month of pregnancy, giving birth away from home and loved ones, and caring for a newborn in a dirty and dusty stable where the only crib was a feeding trough.

I wonder if Mary and Joseph ever thought they might be taking the wrong steps along the way. Could God’s plan for the Savior’s birth possibly be filled with so many seeming missteps?

If you’re like me, you’ve probably wondered the same thing about your own life at some point (or many points!) along the journey. Even when we are doing our best to be faithful to Christ, we often experience our own unexpected 100-mile journeys and the rejections of “we have no room in the inn.” It can leave us wondering if we are taking the wrong steps, or if we are on the wrong path altogether.

But when we look back to that first Christmas and see the bigger picture, we recognize what the Advent journey is all about: Hope!

The holy family shows us that these unexpected circumstances along the way are not missteps at all, but rather the very means by which God is working to bring Christ into the manger of our hearts.

Without the census, Jesus never would have been born in the lowliest of places – the very act of love by which He communicates to us His desire to dwell in even the most humble and broken parts of our hearts. Inns at full capacity were the very means by which Jesus’ nursery became a stable, so even the wayward shepherds knew they could come as they are. And most unexpectedly, the Messiah came not as a military leader or a powerful monarch, but as a little baby, approachable by all.

Everything that God permitted on that first Advent journey was for the good of the holy family and the entire family of God! We can find great hope, knowing that the same can be said for every unexpected obstacle that arises along the way in our own lives as we walk with Christ.

This Advent season, the Lord is inviting you to journey with the Holy Family in a particular way – to travel with them to the stable in Bethlehem, where Christ awaits the opportunity to be born in your heart in a whole new way this Christmas. As you journey with one another and obstacles arise, know that God is unfolding a great plan in your life, and that even when things don’t go as planned, you are in some pretty great company.

+John P. Dolan

Bishop of Phoenix