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Recalling the bustle of Bethlehem

Las Vegas Boulevard on a Saturday night seems an odd place to feel the yuletide spirit, but a person feels what he feels.

And right now I’m feeling some Christmas glow.

That’s not because things are serene and peaceful here. There’s actually a lot of commotion.

But I'm guessing this is what Bethlehem was like all those years ago.

It was tax time, remember, and people’s pockets were filled with money.

Many had traveled long distances and were looking for rooms and meals. And — people being people — I’m sure they were looking for places to relax and socialize.

Then, into the turmoil, came a light — a light not unlike the one I see in the little Catholic church next to the Encore hotel.

It’s a welcoming light, a gentle light, yet it somehow packs more force than all the surrounding neon.

Years ago, this church light might well have been a lamp in a stable.

It might have been a hovering star.

It might have been the same light I remember beaming from a high window in the film “The Man of La Mancha” where a small, upper window framed Don Quixote singing about “the unreachable star.” Meanwhile, far below, the noisy throngs pushed and plodded through the streets.

Two thousand years ago, those streets might have been the streets of Bethlehem at zero hour, when a determined little light ignited in a town overflowing with visitors.

People will tell you the Gospels of Luke and Matthew begin with the Nativity story but the Gospel of John does not.

But I don’t think that’s entirely true.

In the opening verses of John, he says of Jesus: “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."

Doesn't that sum up the manger scene in just 12 words?

Isn’t that the star above the stable, the warm glow inside the stable?

When I was a little boy singing “Away in a Manger” I thought the line “Asleep, the Savior, in a stall” was “Asleep, the Savior, in a star.”

Was my version really so far off?

Isn’t Christmas about fresh light coming into a helter-skelter world?

Isn’t it about a small chapel light glowing like a holy coal on Las Vegas Boulevard where the Bonfire of the Vanities blazes?

I think it is.

And here — amid the Las Vegas bedlam of a bleak midwinter — in my mind, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.