When I was in Israel, one place we visited was the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which is believed to be built at the exact place of Jesus's birth. Since we are nearing Christmas, here is a brief account of my experience there.
The bus stopped at a checkpoint when we entered Bethlehem, and from my window, I saw the armed guards motion us through. It felt rough there, a little hostile, but maybe that was just me. Our driver took us up the narrow winding roads to an angled slot in a parking garage filled with other tour buses, and we disembarked and headed up the road to the massive old church. The inside was beautiful, awesome. There were sightseers, pilgrims from all over the world, mostly in groups about the same size as ours. Each seemed to have a leader who occasionally presented a lesson in a language that I did not understand. Pressed together, we the crowd inched along making our way toward the front, and as we did, we became hushed and reverent as if everyone was sensing the holiness of the place. I did not even take a picture inside except for one of the ceiling lights shortly after I stepped in. I just experienced it. In the front, there was a small semicircle of stone steps going down. One by one, each of us, from the four corners of the globe on a single mission, walked down the steps and under a low arched opening called the Door of Humility to reach the site over the grotto where Jesus was born. A metal star on the floor with a round hole in it marked the spot. We could look down into darkness as if it were that night. The sun was setting when when we went back outside, but we saw Manger Square where, we were told, many people will be celebrating on December 25.