The myths of Christmas and their eternal meaning to us span centuries.
In the end, Christmas is all about hope. 
Christmas is a wonderful festival.  Full of history and symbolism.
‘Christmas’ is Christ Mass - the Mass celebrated in honour of the birth of Christ.  The ‘Christ Mass’ began in Rome in the 4th century and then in England in the 10th and 11th centuries. 
Santa Claus – good old Santa – is actually St Nicholas - bishop of Myra in Turkey in the 3rd century, the patron saint of children, bringing them gifts on 6 December. Thanks to St Nicholas we give presents at Christmas. 
The day after Christmas is St Stephen’s Day. So we have the carol ‘Good King Wenceslas went out, on the feast of Stephen’. Wenceslaus was Duke of Bohemia in the first century.  He sets off in the snow to help a beggar.  His page wants to call it quits and get back home, but he can keep going by putting his feet in the Wenceslaus’s footprints in the snow, and so they reach the beggar. It’s a Path of Hope story.   
From Saint Nicholas we get Santa Claus – Santa for Saint, and Claus is the second half of Nicholas – Ni-Claus.  Take off the Ni, and you’re left with Cholas, or Cla-us.  So - Santa Cla-us.
There’s more symbolism.
The original writers wanted to show that ‘all there was of God’ shone through Jesus so strongly, that his birth had to be directly ‘of God.’
So they said there was a star that burned more brightly, as a sign that God was directly involved in Jesus’ birth. And they said he was born, not in a regular place, but in a stable – because it was a sign of what was to come – Jesus was to be rejected, cast out, crucified.
And there were angels – messengers who would spread the word about the birth of this child. 
And they said it was a virgin birth because they believed Jesus coming to us from God was so miraculous it couldn’t happen by way of a human biological event.  For God to become human, God had to do it.
Then there were the wise men – the magi.  They were from the East.  From the wider world. They made the point that Jesus was for everybody. Not just a select few.
The tradition of Christmas trees came from Germany, and Charles Dickens popularized a celebration which embraced families and beyond – especially the families living in poverty in the slums of 19th century London. 
All very rich symbolism, which we pick up on today.  
Like – Christmas is when we think about our families and those we love.  We get together, or try to get together, and be in the company of our loved ones.  The Emperor Augustus, it says in Luke’s Gospel, issued a decree that everyone go to their own city for a census, which is why Mary and Joseph made the trip.  
A few of us would have made trips to be with our families as well if we were ever allowed out of the state.  Or ‘into’ the State without having to spend Christmas in a lock-up.  But I digress – the point is – Christmas is a time when we do what we can to be with our families and friends and offer hospitality. At Christmas we recognise the value of family life, and we celebrate it.  We also open up our homes and offer hospitality to others. This is what Christmas does to us.
Then, Christmas gives us a chance to put aside all that frenetic, life-sapping addiction to texts and messages and emails and more.  It gives a chance, to stop the hustle and bustle, and shut up, and stop thinking about ourselves, and appreciate other people.  
And Christmas lets us remember people and send them greetings.  Christmas cards, letters. Whatever.  
Christmas lets us show we really do care about other people.  For most of the year we don’t have time to think about them, let alone contact them.  Christmas says – get in touch.  Tell people we remember them and we care about them.
And then, Christmas gives us the nudge, as with the Three Magi – the so-called Wise Men, that it’s more blessed to give than to receive.  The stories of Christmas make us realise we ‘are’ what we give, not what we get.  And if we’re fair dinkum Rotarians, we’ll get this.  I haven’t come across anyone yet who’s joined Rotary for what they can get out of it – except the joy of giving and being useful and helpful to others.  And if there’ve been those who’ve joined for personal or business advantage, the penny soon drops that that’s a dud idea and they haven’t stayed.  
And then - Christmas inspires us to give presents to each other.  Get someone to wrap them up for you because however you cut up the wrapping paper it’s always the wrong size for the present.   Then put them under the tree and pray the dog doesn’t eat them.  But take care.  Select your gifts carefully.  One year I thought I was on a real winner and gave Joy what I thought was a very special present.  And I went to a lot of trouble to have it gift wrapped.  What was it, I hear you ask?  An electric toothbrush.  You might say it fell, well, flat.  So think before you buy.
And most importantly, Christmas brings us hope.
Inevitably, some of us will have been coping with not-so-good things.  Difficulties. Maybe health. Our health, but harder to deal with - the health problems of our loved ones. Maybe relationships have gone wonky.  Maybe our business has taken a hit. Maybe our ceiling fell in.  And then Covid hasn’t helped.  Working from home isn’t everyone’s glass of scotch.
But Christmas helps us here.  In the darkness there’s hope.  There was a great poet in the 17th century called John Donne. He was Dean of St Paul’s in London.  He was the one who wrote ‘No man is an island entire of himself’, which is pretty well known.  
He said, never be afraid of the darkness because God has made the darkness the place where He’s always to be found.  
And that’s the big message about Christmas.  No matter how dark things get, there’s always hope.  Every day can be as full of hope as the birth of child – even a birth in the most unpromising of places, like in a stable, amongst animals, in the darkness. Christmas is about hope, and Hope is about the Future.  It’s how we think about what’s going to happen next.  Sometimes we might think that what’s going to happen next is bound to be worse than what’s happened in the past.  Tomorrow will be more awful than today, we could think. Everything’s falling apart and I can’t see a way forward.  That’s not hope. That’s depression and cynicism and despair.  It’s easy to get like that.  
The trick is to take it one step at a time. We’re not faced with the problem of next year, yet, or even next month. What we’re faced with is tomorrow.  And hope says: Tomorrow will be better than today. So every day, I must say to myself, tomorrow will be better than today. 
And this is the basic message of Christmas.  Maybe things have not gone so well today, but tomorrow will be different, because I’ll have learned how to cope a bit better, from the mistakes I’ve made today.  And I’ve got all the help that my family and friends can give me, and the help of all the people who wish the best for me, and the help of God who is with me, and all this goodwill is holding me up.  So with all of this going for me, tomorrow will be better than today.
So I won’t dread tomorrow. I’ll look forward to it. It will be a fresh start. Full of possibility. Here’s a new day coming, and there’s a lot to see in it. Different people to admire and enjoy, in all their difference from me.  Another day. A better day. And I’ve got all the help anyone could ask for, to live it well.
Today’s misfortunes and missteps and mistakes won’t finish us off – they’ll only show us a better way to live, and we can follow it, tomorrow. Tomorrow will be better than today. It will be my dancing day, and whatever happens, the meaning and value of our lives will never be lost.
That’s hope, and hope is what Christmas is all about.
So have a wonderful Christmas.
The Very Reverend Dr John Shepherd,