It’s no longer a surprise to area residents that each holiday season, Cedar Park is home to the most elaborate living nativity scene in Central Texas.
It’s marked by a spotlight, six-feet in diameter, beaming up in the night sky. The light can be seen 25 miles in all directions — what the people at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church call a symbol of the star that shined over Bethlehem the night of Jesus’ birth.
Inspiring scenes from the life of Christ will be re-created Dec. 1-3, as Good Shepherd Lutheran Church presents its Fifth Annual “Follow The Star Texas” an outdoor, five-minute drive-through, walk-through Christmas pageant. From 6:30-9 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, costumed actors and live animals including sheep, a camel and a donkey will pose in ornate settings to tell the Christmas story, as well as the entire story of Christ’s life.
Follow The Star is a unique production of the life of Jesus Christ, telling not only the common Nativity story of the birth of Jesus during the Christmas season, but also the story of his suffering, death and resurrection; scenes not generally displayed in your typical Christmas story pageants.
The church property transforms into the streets and villages of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Camels are shipped in from Bandera. Professional crews in the area provide high-quality lighting and sound, actors wear designer hand-woven costumes with fabrics carefully chosen to match the period. Red, blue and warm white lights radiate the darkness. The angel Gabriel spreads his wings six-feet wide. The baby Jesus lies in his manager, music drifting through the live oak trees and beyond. It is a production that costs approximately $40,000 to put on — sometimes as much as $70,000 with installations and repairs — and takes an entire year to plan. The congregation funds the program with its yearly March to the Star auction. Various community sponsors donate their services, either discounting their pricing or providing in-kind contributions.
The pageant includes 10 portrayals of the life of Christ; the angel Gabriel visiting Mary, the Nativity, Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, the last supper, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal, Pontius Pilate, Roman Governor of Judea washing his hands of Christ, his crucifixion, resurrection, the tomb with the stone rolled away, and his ascension to heaven. It concludes with a modern day family Christmas evening.
“We actually meet all through the year to plan Follow The Star,” said Renee Arndt, show producer. “People want to do this. They see it as a way to serve the Lord and serve his people. More than 300 people are involved in one way or another – cast and crew, and it’s growing every year.”
Volunteers craft costumes and wigs, fold brochures, design and build elaborate sets and care for the actors who are willing to stand in the chill of December to deliver their silent message.
“They say it’s a five-minute, drive-through, walk- through program,” Arndt said. “But when children see the incredible story behind Christmas right before their eyes, they have so many questions to answer. It’s really an important thing for our children to be educated on the true Christmas story, and this is a spectacular way to do it. It’s something they’ll never forget. It’s free, and families don’t even have to get out of their cars.”
The Rev. Martin Brauer, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, asks the planning committee to make sure that the actors are fed, rested and warm,” she said. “Before the show, volunteers make hot drinks and dinner for the actors, who are advised to wear layers of long underwear and warm clothing under their costumes. For the crucifixion scene, hidden space heaters warm the actors who rotate on 20-minute shifts on the cross, and a massage therapist tends to them immediately following.”
The production even has nurses on hand should someone fall off a set, get scraped or trip over the myriad of hidden lighting wires.
“Our pastor has a vision for the Austin area,” Arndt added. “He’s so committed to taking care of people. This pageant was his creation, and thousands of people come every year. Over 33,000 people have attended Follow The Star in a four-year period. We’re excited for the opportunity to share the life of Christ with the community and serve the community.”
Serving the community
The pageant is free, but serves as a collection point for the Hill Country Community Ministries Food Pantry. Visitors are urged to drop off nonperishable foods such as canned fruits and vegetables, canned meats, rice, beans, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, pasta, baby food, diapers, and personal hygiene items such as soaps, shampoos and deodorants.
The Hill Country Community Ministries’ food pantry serves the southwest Williamson and northwest Travis counties. They are currently serving 450–500 families a month, and forty percent of those they serve are hungry children.
According to Tiesa Hollaway, the executive director of Hill Country Community Ministries, not only are food items needed, but monetary donations are needed as well.
“For every $1 donated to HCCM, we are able to purchase $2 worth of food for families in need,” Hollaway said. “Approximately half of our food is donated, but we must purchase supplemental food to operate our food pantry at full capacity and meet the increased need/de- mand for services. It takes approximately 40,000 pounds (20 tons) of food each month to serve our current client base.”
When donating non- perishable food, its best that people donate canned fruit, vegetables and meat, dried beans, rice and spaghetti/pasta (1 or 2 lb. packages only), cereal, peanut butter and jelly,” Hollaway said. “People of- ten clean out their person- al food pantries thinking that whatever leftovers they have will be beneficial to people in need. But the goal is to create nutritious and well balanced meals for both adults and children.”
This production is dis- tinct from other outdoor Christmas productions be- cause it features not only the Nativity scene of Jesus, but His death and resurrection as well. When asked, “why the crucifixion scene during the Christmas season?” Pastor Martin Brauer answered, “people need to know the rest of the story. This production is our gift to the community. Just as Jesus met the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of people, we intend to do the same through this production.”
According to Pastor Brauer, in a four-year pe- riod, Follow The Star has raised $16,000 and 8.5 tons of food for the Hill Country Community Ministries Food Pantry. And 33,000 people have at- tended Follow The Star in a four-year period.
The community is encouraged to take a very special journey. Walk it. Drive it. Experience it. Why not? Wise men still do.