Fellowship Baptist Church parishioners had resolved that their living nativity would not be just a sweet pastoral scene -- and it wasn't.
Gathering in the icy darkness Wednesday night, the Ferndale congregation took about 100 visitors beyond the traditional manger story, though there were plenty of lambs and robed shepherds.
But there was a cross, too, in the field near the pastor's home where the nativity was presented, a rough harsh cross on which a man hung helplessly dying, surrounded by sneering soldiers.
Nor did the20-minute presentation end with the Wise Men bearing gifts, though their $300 handmade costumes shimmered richly in the spotlight.
Forthese county residents, the Christmas story ended with the lights glancing off an empty tomb, and the sounds of B. J. Thomas singing, "What a difference you made in my life."
"Ultimately, Jesus Christ came to give himself as a sacrifice for our sin. That's what the Christmas story is really about," said the Rev. Michael Hubers, pastor of the 140-member church.
As visitors settled on hay bales to watch orstopped for hot drinks and cookies in the minister's garage, about adozen church members acted out the Christmas story.
It was a frigid night for an outdoor play. The only ones who didn't look cold werethe sheep. Warm and woolly, they moved around Mary and Joseph, who shivered despite the thermal underwear beneath their robes.
But church members said they were so happy to tell the Christ child's story that they didn't mind the 20-below wind-chill factor.
"It's exciting for us," Hubers said. "We love to do it; even with the weather. But wait till the cross scene -- he's a bit nippy."
About 500 peoplecame to see the living nativity last year, the first year the churchheld the free production, Hubers said. One woman in the church made all the costumes. This year, community farmers donated the use of sheep, a goat and a donkey.
Inside an unheated trailer, Will Edwards adjusted buttons on a console and kept an eye on the electrical equipment that ran the lighting and sound systems. The evening before, equipment had gotten so cold it wouldn't function, he said.
Edwards, a 52-year-old longshoreman, engineered the production with the help of dozens of church members.
"They're all so excited this time of year," he said. "I don't have to ask people to help; they come and askif they can be in the nativity scene."
One helper, George House, took two days off work, including his birthday, to build the tomb andfigure out a mechanical device that would lock the cross in place once it was raised.
"This year, we got a regular stucco paint gun sothe tomb has the rough texture of rock," House said happily.
One day while he was working on the cross, House said, a teen-ager from anearby housing development walked by. "What is that?" asked the youngster, pointing at the cross. "I know it means something, but what?"
House shakes his head. "You'd think everyone in this country wouldknow the story of Christianity, but they don't. If one person comes to know Christ, this is worth all the work we've put into it."
TheLiving Nativity will be presented from 7 to 9 tonight and tomorrow night on the church property at the end of Sundown Road in Ferndale. Take Wellham Avenue off B&A Boulevard to Olen Drive and turn right. Follow Olen Drive to Sundown and turn right. The production is free.