Some pastors say their approach is a straightforward retelling of the story, confident in its historical truth.
“I don’t try and prove how right the Nativity” story is, said the Rev. Samuel W. Chambers Sr., pastor of Wayman Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in New Brighton. “God needs no proof. Either you believe in Him or you don’t.”
The Rev. James B. Farnan, pastor of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Bethel Park, agreed.
“You can’t deny the historical nature of sacred Scripture,” he said. Noting that the Gospels quote Hebrew Scripture passages they say were fulfilled in Jesus, Father Farnan added: “His is the only birth that has been predicted not only when and where but to what family and to what person.”
Other preachers say they don’t insist on belief in the details of the account but urge listeners to focus on what they see as the main message of passages — God becoming human to save humanity.
“The Christian faith is about way more than belief in the historical accuracy of every detail of the biblical story,” said the Rev. Roger Owens, professor of leadership and ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
“Just as the angels in the Bible so often say when they appear to someone, ‘Do not be afraid,’ I would say to preachers: ‘Do not fear,’” added Rev. Owens, who is speaking from experience: He preached for five years at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church in Durham, N.C., to a congregation of well-educated and potentially skeptical hearers.
“You will be doing your congregation a great service if you move from the peripheral details to the center,” he said. “Belief in the virgin birth might be a late development, and it might not be attested to in every Gospel, but if that’s what your faith stands on, it’s a flimsy faith. In Jesus, God took on flesh, and became truly human. This is the heart.”…
The Rev. Dean Weaver, pastor of Memorial Park Church, a Presbyterian church in Hampton, said that while he affirms the historical truth of the narratives, he doesn’t use Christmas sermons to win over skeptics.
“Typically at Christmastime, it’s not about arguments or proof-texting or skepticism, it’s really about the beauty and the mystery of the Christmas narrative, and people entering into the fact that God came into the world because he loves us,” he said.
Plus, he said, “at Christmastime, you hope there’s some willingness to entertain the idea that the supernatural is actually real. Most people at this time of year, even if they’re skeptical, they’re open to at least wanting to believe that.”
Rev. Owens echoed the thought, summarizing his advice for preachers: “Despite what surveys say, you should step into your pulpit believing that the people there long to believe, because they do. They’ve lived in religion obsessed long enough with who’s in and who’s out, who’s got it right, and who’s got it wrong, and they are tired and they want to believe.”
While these pastors don't want to address the historical issues much, there are a lot of other people who do, like Richard Carrier and Bart Ehrman. As more books, television programs, and web sites argue against the historicity of the Biblical accounts, pastors continue to claim that they can love people while neglecting their minds. I suspect that many of these pastors don't know much about the historical issues, and they don't want to take the time and effort to learn more. Like their pastors, laymen are highly ignorant, apathetic, and sometimes even contemptuous about apologetics in general and Christmas apologetics in particular.
Over this past Christmas season, how many Evangelical web sites did you see addressing apologetic issues in depth? Or at all? By contrast, how many put up posts about Christmas music, Christmas humor, Christmas theology, etc.? When Richard Bauckham delivered a lecture supporting the historicity of Luke's infancy material this past October, how many Evangelical web sites did you see posting about it? How many of those sites have ever posted a response to Raymond Brown's book on the infancy narratives, which has been the standard work in the field for a few decades now? How many Evangelical web sites (or Twitter accounts, books, television programs, etc.) have responded to more recent books arguing against the historicity of the infancy narratives, like Geza Vermes' or Andrew Lincoln's? What are parents doing to teach and prepare their children on these issues? When a culture launches such an extensive and sustained assault on the historicity of the Biblical accounts of Jesus' childhood, is it sufficient to respond with sermons about what we can learn from Mary, Christmas plays, and some Christmas music videos posted on our web sites?