It was truly magical, because on the stroke of 7pm, as the service started, all the lights suddenly went out, and we realised there were candles glowing everywhere, hundreds of them.
On the front cover of the service sheet was this image..............
This is the Stalingrad Madonna. On Christmas Eve, 1942, a military surgeon was working round the clock in a field operating theatre in Stalingrad. He was a German Lutheran Pastor, a gifted artist, deeply opposed to the Nazi regime.
When his work was over for the night, he gathered a group of soldiers to hold a Christmas service in an underground bunker, with no cross, no tree, no candles. But on the back of a captured Soviet military map he had drawn an icon, the picture of a Russian Mother, a Russian Mary and her Child; the Stalingrad Madonna. It was fastened to an earthen wall. This Russian Mother, like Mary, was sheltering the vulnerable Christ child in the midst of a world of suffering.
Even though the artist and doctor, Kurt Reuber, died in Soviet captivity, along with 60,000 other German soldiers, miraculously the Stalingrad Madonna survived, and is now hanging in a church in West Berlin.
Here are some lovely words penned by Dr Rowan Williams to guide us into Christmas Day itself.
He will come like last fall's leaf fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud's folding.
He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.
He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursted red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.
He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.
A Holy and Happy Christmas to you and all your loved ones.