The "star of Bethlehem'' will shine bright Friday and Saturday at the Crystal Cove Community Church at 6900 County Road 95, during a live nativity presentation at 8 p.m.
Last week, a bearded Terry Thomas was getting dressed for his role as a wise man in a garnet robe, gold cape, a black velvet headdress and a crown.
And like all good wise men, he had a story to tell.
Years ago, he said, a nonbelieving friend, "a very dark soul," came to the show, saw the performance and was so moved, "she accepted Christ that night."
A couple of days later, she came into his office to tell him about it, not even realizing he had played one of the characters.
"She started going to church and it changed her life," he said.
• • •
Natalie and Sophia Caruso, 7-year-old twins, were seated in the front row, eagerly waiting for the show to start. They said they've been attending for the past eight years — that includes the year they were in the womb, they explained.
Part of the Christmas magic for them is seeing the baby Jesus surrounded by the farm animals in the stable. It's an important reminder, too, "that Christmas is about Jesus and God," said Sophia.
• • •
The First Christmas is the name of the 14th annual nativity presentation by the church. It's a narrated, easy-to-understand story told in a series of seven vignettes. Recorded songs help move the story line along.
Organizer Susan Cox calls it a "visual concert."
"It tells what happened on the first Christmas and why we still celebrate today," she said.
As the donkeys and sheep grazed on peanut hay, the star illuminated Mary and Joseph and the shepherds. The three wise men brought their gold, frankincense and myrrh and the angelic choir lit up the night with their candles.
A shot of dense vapor from the roof of the stable dramatically announced what they had all been waiting for — baby Jesus was born.
At one point, the audience is asked to stand and sing-along to Silent Night as a candle is passed.
After the show, visitors are invited to the back of the property to meet the barn animals: a camel named Samuel; Lazarus, a white thoroughbred horse who does tricks; sheep, goats, donkeys and other creatures.
The church owns the menagerie; it's part of the ARK (Animals Reaching Kids) outreach ministry.
Children squealed in delight as the hump-backed Samuel leaned his long neck over the railing and wiggled his lips. And they marveled at the donkey with a cross on its back.
"It looks like the donkey in Shrek, only bigger," said Paige Gabardi, 7.