Once again, Desborough & Toller URCs published an advent booklet with a reading for each day, written by a member of the congregation.
This year, each day took its inspiration from a line of the carol 'Once in Royal David's City'.
Here is one of the two that I wrote.
I was just 18 when I took that school trip.
We had travelled over 4 hours, by coach, to a remote kibbutz before heading to Bethlehem, which at that time was still within Israel. The land was undulating, and in the distance, the hills has a smattering of snow. As we drove through the countryside, we saw burnt out tanks, relics of the 6 days war. With the dry, arid environment, they looked as fresh as the day they had been hit, over 17 years earlier.
The coach was filled with young teenagers who were boisterous; laughing and chatting whilst at the back, I and my friend were feeling bleak from the landscape we had driven through.
The Church of the Nativity, as we arrived, was a plain solemn looking building. Set in a courtyard, we stayed back from the loud tourist hoards and walked in silence towards the entrance.
Nothing could have prepared me for the inside. The far end of the church, directly in front of us, was ornate and gilded. The smell of incense was overwhelming. This seemed a world away from the Bethlehem of the Bible.
We waited until everyone else from the group had finished and then went through a doorway. Carefully, we wound our way down the steps to the Grotto of the Nativity. It was the four of us. Myself, my friend, my teacher and a guide from the Church.
The grotto was so quiet after the noise of the coach and church. The guide pulled us towards the altar and showed us, underneath the fourteen-point silver star, marking where Jesus was born.
He looked around, conspiratorially, and beckoned us over, indicating for us to touch it. We three leaned in and placed our hands there, together. As we did this, I looked up at the cave we were in, below the church that was bustling, and in that quiet, sacred space, I connected with something bigger than myself.