by Barbara Chaapel
Margaret Grun Kibben began her life as a Presbyterian as a child in the cradle room of the Neshaminy Warwick Presbyterian Church in the Presbytery of Philadelphia. Today, after confirmation, seminary, ordination to the ministry, and a career as a military chaplain, she is a Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy and the recently appointed chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, the first woman to hold that position.
On Jan. 23, Grun Kibben returned digitally to the presbytery where she is still a member to preach at the presbytery meeting.
The worship service that chilly January morning, “A Service of Light in the Darkness,” began with the Rev. Joyce Shin, pastor of Swarthmore Presbyterian Church, playing the hymn “In the Bleak Midwinter” from a piano in her home, followed by seven members of the presbytery reading brief texts from scripture about light as they lit candles.
“It would be reasonable if this service was to lament the loss of light, the death of a family member, missed family gatherings, virtual classrooms, basically the loss of normal life,” Grun Kibben began, commending the presbytery for creating the opportunity to bring light into this very dark year, one of the hardest times we have ever experienced as a country.
In April, Grun Kibben’s neighbors asked her to gather people in the neighborhood for an Easter service.
“My little neighborhood is full of non-like-minded people. But they believed that anything that brought us together was truly a light in the darkness,” she said.
As the pandemic stretched through the summer and into the fall, Grun Kibben said that even before Thanksgiving people were stringing up Christmas lights to dispel the darkness and create a quasi-normal experience, if only for a couple moments. She called it “a cacophony of luminary brilliance, breaking up the monotony of COVID’s Groundhog Day existence.”
“As a kid, I was afraid of the dark,” Grun Kibben confessed, remembering long, frightening treks home in the dark through backyards and thick woods, until she finally saw the porch light of her home and she felt a sense of relief.
She likened Isaiah 9 to that moment of deliverance: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Grun Kibben said the people of Isaiah’s time and region “were living in a war zone, attacked relentlessly by the Assyrian army. With unknown dangers … they lived with suffering, injustice, violence and great fear. And Isaiah speaks into this desperate moment with the prophecy of good news. There will be light and peace, something to hope for.”
Grun Kibben drew a parallel with the people of our time and region, who are also “living in darkness — the terrors of COVID, of social unrest and of political discord and cultural acrimony.”
As with the people in Isaiah’s time, she said our human efforts and expectations will always fall short. We remain in the darkness of human existence.
She urged her listeners to consider Isaiah’s prophecy. “God spoke to them a promise. In their desperation, God gave them the hope of their salvation — for to them a child is born, and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. For us, thousands of years later…, God still speaks. We live in the faith that the prophecy has been fulfilled, we have received salvation in the birth, life and death of the child foretold long ago. That Christ is the light of the world.”
No matter how dark our journeys are, Grun Kibben concluded, “It is God who said let light shine out of darkness. Despite what is arguably one of the hardest years we have ever experienced, Jesus is and remains the light of the world. Whoever follows him will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. It’s a journey of faith, in the darkness. There are long treks through backyards and thick woods, but even when we can’t see the porch light, we boldly assert that faith is confidence in what we hope for, assurance about what we do not see. Christ is our light, our hope, our peace.”
She urged Christ’s followers to share that light of hope with each other, and with a world that needs it now more than ever.
You can listen to Margaret Grun Kibben’s sermon by clicking here.