With December just around the corner, it seems appropriate to visit the Nativity town of the birthplace of baby Jesus. But my reality of this little town that I used to sing about in hymns at school is not what expected to see.
Bethlehem is actually part of the West Bank and lays beyond the wall that separates Palestine and Israel. The wall is covered in graffiti of messages of peace, and Israeli soldiers check each vehicle that enters.
O Little Town
People live here as they have done for hundreds of years but where is the Nativity scene? Where are the stables and the little donkey? A Palestine refugee camp sits within and people who are born here will probably never leave. Jerusalem is a walkable distance away but the people of Bethlehem need permission to enter the city.
Instead there are soldiers, refugee camps and hoards of tourists. My image has been shattered and all I can think is ‘Poor little town…'
The sign says ‘silence' as I gingerly step down the stone steps, careful not to slip.
Then just as I enter the dark cave, dust centuries of years old, hit the back of my throat. I gasp for air trying not to splutter but I can't hold it and my cough turns into a huge coughing fit.
I am in the cave where Lord Jesus was born. This is probably the most sacred place in the world. A place to touch the blessed stone and see the holy manger, yet I am shattering the silence with my cough. If you do visit, just remember to be quiet.