The Angels’ Candle (Sermon)

Fourth Sunday of Advent (December 18, 2022).

Darryl Willis
10 min readDec 21, 2022
Photo by Mario Losereit on Unsplash

Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent. A candle is lit — the candle of peace. It’s also called the Angels’ Candle.

Honestly, the fourth Sunday of Advent really doesn’t seem like a time of peace or angelic deliverance — especially this year. It’s more like the Saturday before Resurrection Sunday: it’s a time of uncertainty, fearful waiting — a time of darkness, oppression, confusion: a time of unknowing.

Will God continue to wait? Is it as the former relief pitcher of the Boston Red Sox, Tom Gordon used to say about God? When he’d go in to pitch in the final inning, he always pointed to the sky.

Why do you do that, Tom?

Because it’s the nature of God to come in at the bottom of the ninth.”*

Is that true? Will God at the last minute actually step in and shine a light in the darkness, or will he leave us alone in our despair? Will there be an angel of deliverance to blind the enemy army that outnumbers us? Or will the angel stand as the figure with his sword drawn. And when you ask him “are you for us or our enemies?” He replies, “Neither, but as the captain of Yahweh’s Army, I have come.”**

What kind of answer is that?

And this isn’t just an intellectual exercise — at least not for my friends and loved ones in Ukraine. This is a real-world concern!

Where are you, God?

It’s Advent for crying out loud!

In a resource for Advent, I was intrigued to find that one of the readings comes from the book of Susanna — a book not accepted as cannon by the Jewish people or by Protestants — although accepted by many early church fathers and the Orthodox and Catholic churches.

Honestly, I would have much preferred the story of Hagar in the wilderness — she’s a gutsy, tough-as-nails lady who doesn’t really sound as passive as folks make her to be. And in the end an angel does appear to her and she becomes one of the select few who actually name God — El Roi — the God who sees me!

Not even Mary gets that honor!

But, Susanna it is — furthermore, this is the older reading, not the one you typically find in the Orthodox or Catholic Bibles or in a standard Apocrypha. And the reading stops before the resolution!

The story is a sordid little tale that’s been called the first detective story. It features a beautiful wife of a very wealthy Jewish gentleman name Joakim who lives in Babylon during the exile. Two particular elders have been named as judges over Israel. They set up shop in Joakim’s house. Evidently, it’s a large home where people gather: a community center. Adjacent is his garden, which isn’t a little plot where he grows his cabbages. No, it’s a garden — which makes one think of the garden of Eden. It is sheltered from the outside world, complete with gates.

Now Susanna is almost described as lady wisdom — she has four children, she knows the law, she is upright and chaste. But these elders are not upright. They are lecherous. Together they plot to get Susanna alone and have their way with her.

The opportune time comes. They are hiding in the garden — Susanna and her serving girls shows up — she has 500 of them, by the bye (I assume it’s not the whole retinue) — and she sends them off to get some oils because she intends to bathe in the pool in the garden. They shut the gates to avoid prying eyes, unaware of the presence of the elders. As soon as the girls are gone, out come the two elders and they threaten Susanna that if she doesn’t have sex with them, they’ll claim they caught her committing adultery.

Her response is that she’s doomed no matter what. But she’s not going to lose her integrity — so she screams out — and they scream too. When everyone in the household come out to see the commotion, the elders accuse her — they caught her committing adultery and tried to capture the young man, but he was stronger and overpowered them and got away.

Everyone (presumably including her family) believes the elders — makes you wonder what Susanna thought of that. She is condemned to death.

As they are leading her out to be stoned, today’s reading ends with, “And look! An angel of God stood with her.” And the reading stops here!

C’mon guys! Really? You’re going to stop there?

The gospel reading is paralleled. Matthew’s version of Mary being found pregnant in Matthew 1:18–25. Matthew doesn’t even suggest the angel had previously appeared to Mary and warned her! The first century audience who received Matthew’s gospel likely didn’t have Luke’s gospel to compare the two stories. Can you imagine?

Joseph is ready to divorce her secretly, but an angel shows up in a dream and tells him this isn’t Mary’s fault — this is from the Holy Spirit and the baby will save his people, therefore they are to name him Yah-Who-Saves or Y’shua (Joshua) — Jesus, in Greek.

Now everything is just fine. Or is it? There’s a lot unsaid here. Will Joseph’s acceptance of the angel’s message be enough to rescue Mary from future stigma, shame, and from the pressure she’ll face in small town Nazareth or Bethlehem? We don’t know.

Then there’s the Psalm reading : Psalm 34:1–9. I’m especially drawn to verse 7 “the angel of God encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.” I read down further in the rest of the psalm and those rescued are told to seek peace and pursue it — that the eyes of God are on the just, he hears their cries. God is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

But sometimes…you just have to wonder.

As I encounter all of these stories and verses, I can’t help but think of others — the gospel reading is right in the middle of two disturbing texts: the first one is the genealogy — uniquely mentioning five women. Their sex and their names draw immediate attention. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba (and Mary) — three out of the five are obviously gentiles. All have been associated with sexual compromise, perhaps in danger of or victims of potential predatory behavior. Some (like Bathsheba) have actually suffered sexual assault: all are women in very vulnerable positions in male dominated cultures.

And then there’s the text that follows the gospel reading, where in Ramah, Rachel weeps for her children and refuses to be consoled . This is the recounting of the slaughter of the infants in Bethlehem. It’s a grim foreshadowing: that Mary doesn’t really escape Rachel’s fate — it’s just postponed.

I think again of the angel appearing to Hagar, vulnerable a victim of Sara’s and Abraham’s abuse . I think of Hannah who gets confirmation from a different kind of angel in the form of an ineffective and dismissive high priest named Eli, who callously accuses her of drunkenness and then when she explains how she is in the middle of grief and in distress, he just off-handedly brushes her off with, “May the God of Israel grant your request,” perhaps not realizing his prediction of God’s answer.

All these stories seem to merge into the same story of God’s love, peace, and deliverance. Even if it is at the last minute, the bottom of the ninth — even if the ending is not quite as satisfying as we’d prefer.

And now, Susanna — herself vulnerable to the danger of sexual assault and execution, treated like an object, disbelieved in spite of her exemplary character… But there is a resolution in the story — in both versions. The older version mentions how Susanna, like Hanna, prays silently to God, and God hears her.

As they are leading her to her execution the older versions says, “Look here! An angel of God was there!” It goes on to say that the angel gives a young man named Daniel miraculous wisdom and insight. He intervenes, cross examines the two accusers, exposes their duplicity and they are taken out and executed for bearing false witness.

Now let’s return to our candle — the fourth candle, the angels’ candle, the candle of peace.

Honestly, it disturbs me — it angers me that in this year, at this time, we’re talking about the candle of peace a candle for angels. It’s a candle we don’t have to light because we have electricity — and I have dear friends and loved ones who are lighting candles right now because they don’t have electricity — and their candles are prayers for peace because the Russian Federation is bombing the blazes out of them.

Where are the angels?

Peace candle, indeed…

It angers me because I’ve seen too many photos from the maternity hospital in Mariupol where pregnant women and their unborn children were traumatized and even killed together through constant shelling. Where young toddlers were killed by shrapnel.

It angers me because over 1,000 children, that we know of have been killed or injured during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And we don’t know how many children have been kidnapped.

And just eight days ago the maternity hospital in Kherson was hit by missiles.

Rachel in Ramah — weeping for her children.

We live in a time of war when not a month ago a 22-year-old walks into a nightclub and kills 5 people and injures 24. We live in a time where stories of suicide, attempted suicide, and self-harm are so common that they only make the news when it’s someone famous or connected with someone famous — still tragic and not to be dismissed, but so common.

And yet, even in this time, I can’t forget that in Mary’s time life was cheap, too. Roman soldiers slaughtered protesters, Herod’s men killed infants, Rome crucified insurgents along the major highways for everyone to view their naked tortured bodies. People were oppressed in ways we can’t imagine.

And I see the angels’ candle, the candle of peace. People stubbornly keep lighting that thing every year!

…and perhaps it finally sinks in…

The truth is we are not left alone in this darkness. There are angels present — messengers of God close by who give us a reason to hope and hang on, if we’re just paying attention.

I am reminded that most often God does not intervene with mighty miraculous events or with muscular angelic warriors — but he often calls on humans to partner with him to set the world right. You see, “angel” in the biblical languages doesn’t necessarily mean “supernatural beings.” The angel is merely a messenger from God.

So, two questions — two observations come to me:

In this darkest time of the year — when war, hatred, violence, despair, anxiety and depression haven’t disappeared, it may be some of you are experiencing these very things in your world right now — in your heart. You could probably use a message, a messenger from God. Do you need a word from the Lord? A message of encouragement, pragmatic help, a swift kick in the pants, or just God to come beside you, put an arm around you and squeeze?

Do you need someone who will be the presence of God to strengthen you in your wilderness or even in your garden of Gethsemane?

We light this candle for you, to remind you angels may be nearby to give you a message of peace or to envelope you in God’s arms, in God’s peace. To remind you that not all angels look angelic. To remind you that some look rather shabby. But they are available to help and to be God’s presence for you.

Second question: have you been encountering people over the last several days and weeks who need a word from God — a word of hope, of peace, of love? Or perhaps they don’t need words — just the physical presence of someone who will stand in, to be God’s presence in the middle of their pain?

We light the angels’ candle, the candle of peace, for you to recognize you are called to be God’s peace, God’s presence, God’s messenger in the lives of those caught in the present darkness.

One more story — about my grandfather who graduated from Potters Bible College sometime before 1912. After he graudated, he moved from Tennessee to Oklahoma to be the math teacher in a small town.

When you’re a single math teacher, you don’t go out and rent an apartment. You are put up in the home of a school board member. In the early 1900s there was no television, no radio for evening entertainment. So you had the regular family “altar” where you read scripture, prayed, and sang. And guests are expected to participate.

This was my grandfather’s first night at this home. He was asked to read a scripture.

“Which do you prefer for me to read?”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter, whatever suits you.”

So he lets their old family Bible fall open to a place where it has evidently been read recently and his eyes went to the top left-hand corner of the left page. His eyes settle on the passage: Hebrews 13:2 —

Forget not to show love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

They all got a laugh out of that. My grandfather thought it was a fine coincidence. It became the subject of many conversations and stories — and the stuff of family legends.

But if they really thought about it, they may have considered the divine truth of that moment.

A revelation?


Messengers of God: that’s what I see right now. Those who gather here: messengers of God — angels unaware?


*Well, according to Stephen King’s, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

*Joshua 5:13–15

© Darryl Willis, 2022



Darryl Willis

Has worked in non-profits for 40 years and is currently a Regional Director for an international non-profit. He holds an MA in Biblical text.