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Prologue

Many people have undertaken to draw up an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled in our midst. It has been handed down to us by the original eyewitnesses and stewards of the word. So, most excellent Theophilus, since I had traced the course of all of it scrupulously from the start, I thought it a good idea to write an orderly account for you, so that you may have secure knowledge about the matters in which you have been instructed.

Gabriel Visits Zechariah

In the time when Herod was king of Judaea, there was a priest called Zechariah, of the priestly division of Abijah. His wife, who came from the Aaron family, was called Elisabeth. Both of them were righteous in God’s sight; they followed all the Lord’s commandments and ordinances without fault. They had no children. Elisabeth was barren, and both of them were of an advanced age.

It so happened, when Zechariah was performing his priestly service before God, according to the order of his division, that the lot fell to him, according to the priestly custom, to go in to the Lord’s sanctuary to offer incense. 10 The people were praying outside in a large crowd, at the time of the incense-offering. 11 An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right hand side of the incense-altar. 12 Zechariah was troubled and terror-struck when he saw the angel.

13 But the angel said to him: ‘Don’t be afraid, Zechariah: your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elisabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 This will bring you joy and celebration, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 He will be a great man in God’s sight; he will drink no wine or strong drink. He will be filled with the holy spirit from his mother’s womb, 16 and will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, and he will turn the hearts of fathers to children, and of unbelievers to the wisdom of the righteous. He will get ready for the Lord a prepared people.’

18 ‘How can I be sure of this?’ said Zechariah to the angel. ‘I’m an old man! My wife’s not as young as she used to be, either!’

19 ‘Look here,’ replied the angel, ‘I’m Gabriel. I stand in God’s presence. I was sent to speak to you and give you this splendid news. 20 Now, listen: you will be silent – you won’t be able to speak – until the day when it all happens, because you didn’t believe my words. But they will come true at the proper time.’

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and were surprised that he was taking such a long time in the sanctuary. 22 But when he came out he couldn’t speak to them, and they understood that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He made gestures to them, but remained speechless.

23 So, when the days of his priestly service were complete, he went back home. 24 After that time, Elisabeth his wife conceived. She stayed in hiding for five months.

25 ‘This is the Lord’s doing,’ she said; ‘at last he has looked on me, and taken away my public shame.’

The Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus

26 In the sixth month, Gabriel the angel was sent from God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man called Joseph, from the family of David. The virgin was called Mary.

28 ‘Greetings, favoured one!’ said the angel when he arrived. ‘May the Lord be with you!’

29 She was disturbed at this, and wondered what such a greeting might mean.

30 ‘Don’t be afraid, Mary,’ said the angel to her. ‘You’re in favour with God. 31 Listen: you will conceive in your womb and will have a son; and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be a great man, and he’ll be called the son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, 33 and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever. His kingdom will never come to an end.’

34 ‘How will this happen?’ said Mary to the angel. ‘I’m still a virgin!’

35 ‘The holy spirit will come upon you,’ replied the angel, ‘and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. For that reason the holy one who is born from you will be called God’s Son.

36 ‘Let me tell you this, too: your cousin Elisabeth, in her old age, has also conceived a son. This is the sixth month for her, a woman who people used to say was barren. 37 With God, you see, nothing is impossible.’

38 ‘Here I am,’ said Mary; ‘I’m the Lord’s servant-girl. Let it happen to me as you’ve said.’

Then the angel left her.

The Magnificat: Mary’s Song of Praise

39 Mary got up then and there, and went in excitement to the hill country of Judaea. 40 She went into Zechariah’s house, and greeted Elisabeth. 41 When Elisabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby gave a leap in her womb. Elisabeth was filled with the holy spirit, 42 and shouted at the top of her voice: ‘Of all women, you’re the blessed one! And the fruit of your womb – he’s blessed, too! 43 Why should this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 Look – when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the child in my womb gave a great leap for joy! 45 A blessing on you, for believing that what the Lord said to you would come true!’

46 Mary said,

‘My soul declares that the Lord is great,
47 my spirit exults in my saviour, my God.
48 He saw his servant-girl in her humility;
from now, I’ll be blessed by all peoples to come.
49 The Powerful One, whose name is Holy,
has done great things for me, for me.
50 His mercy extends from father to son,
from mother to daughter for those who fear him.
51 Powerful things he has done with his arm:
he routed the arrogant through their own cunning.
52 Down from their thrones he hurled the rulers,
up from the earth he raised the humble.
53 The hungry he filled with the fat of the land,
but the rich he sent off with nothing to eat.
54 He has rescued his servant, Israel his child,
because he remembered his mercy of old,
55 just as he said to our long-ago ancestors –
Abraham and his descendants for ever.’

56 Mary stayed with Elisabeth for three months, and then returned home.

Zechariah’s Song of Praise

57 The time arrived for Elisabeth’s child to be born, and she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had increased his mercy to her, and they came to celebrate with her.

59 Now on the eighth day, when they came to circumcise the child, they were calling him by his father’s name, Zechariah. 60 But his mother spoke up.

‘No,’ she said, ‘he is to be called John.’

61 ‘None of your relatives’, they objected, ‘is called by that name.’

62 They made signs to his father, to ask what he wanted him to be called. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and wrote on it, ‘His name is John.’

Everyone was astonished. 64 Immediately his mouth and his tongue were unfastened, and he spoke, praising God. 65 Fear came over all those who lived in the neighbourhood, and all these things were spoken of throughout all the hill country of Judaea. 66 Everyone who heard about it turned the matter over in their hearts.

‘What then will this child become?’ they said. And the Lord’s hand was with him.

67 John’s father Zechariah was filled with the holy spirit, and spoke this prophecy:

68 ‘Blessed be the Lord, Israel’s God!
He’s come to his people and bought them their freedom.
69 He’s raised up a horn of salvation for us
in David’s house, the house of his servant,
70 just as he promised, through the mouths of his prophets,
the holy ones, speaking from ages of old:
71 salvation from our enemies, rescue from hatred,
72 mercy to our ancestors, keeping his holy covenant.
73 He swore an oath to Abraham our father,
74 to give us deliverance from fear and from foes,
so we might worship him, 75 holy and righteous
before his face to the end of our days.
76 You, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest One,
go ahead of the Lord, preparing his way,
77 letting his people know of salvation,
through the forgiveness of all their sins.
78 The heart of our God is full of mercy,
that’s why his daylight has dawned from on high,
79 bringing light to the dark, as we sat in death’s shadow,
guiding our feet in the path of peace.’

80 The child grew, and became powerful in the spirit. He lived in the wilderness until the day when he was revealed to Israel.

The Birth of Jesus

At that time a decree was issued by Augustus Caesar: a census was to be taken of the whole world. (This was the first census, before the one when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) So everyone set off to be registered, each to their own town. Joseph too, who belonged to the house and family of David, went from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judaea, David’s city, to be registered with his fiancée Mary, who was pregnant.

So that’s where they were when the time came for her to give birth; and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him up and put him to rest in a feeding-trough, because there was no room for them in the normal living quarters.

There were shepherds in that region, out in the open, keeping a night watch around their flock. An angel of the Lord stood in front of them. The glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

10 ‘Don’t be afraid,’ the angel said to them. ‘Look: I’ve got good news for you, news which will make everybody very happy. 11 Today a saviour has been born for you – the Messiah, the Lord! – in David’s town. 12 This will be the sign for you: you’ll find the baby wrapped up, and lying in a feeding-trough.’

13 Suddenly, with the angel, there was a crowd of the heavenly armies. They were praising God, saying,

14 ‘Glory to God in the highest,
and peace upon earth among those in his favour.’

15 So when the angels had gone away again into heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Well then; let’s go to Bethlehem and see what it’s all about, all this that the Lord has told us.’

16 So they hurried off, and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the feeding-trough. 17 When they saw it, they told them what had been said to them about this child. 18 And all the people who heard it were amazed at the things the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured all these things and mused over them in her heart.

20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told to them.

Simeon and Anna

21 After eight days, the time came to circumcise the baby. He was called by the name Jesus, which the angel had given him before he had been conceived in the womb.

22 When the time came for them to be purified according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him before the Lord. 23 That’s what the law of the Lord says: ‘Every firstborn male shall be called holy to the Lord.’ 24 They also came to offer sacrifice, according to what it says in the law of the Lord: ‘A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.’

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout, waiting for God to comfort Israel, and the holy spirit was upon him. 26 He had been told by the holy spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Led by the spirit, he came into the Temple. As Jesus’ parents brought him in, to do for him what the law’s regulations required, 28 he took the baby in his arms and blessed God with these words:

29 ‘Now, master, you are dismissing your servant in peace,
Just as you said.
30 These eyes of mine have seen your salvation,
31 which you made ready in the presence of all peoples:
32 a light for revelation to the nations,
and glory for your people Israel.’

33 His father and mother were astonished at the things that were said about him. 34 Simeon blessed them.

‘Listen,’ he said to Mary his mother, ‘this child has been placed here to make many in Israel fall and rise again, and as a sign that will be spoken against 35 (yes, a sword will go through your own soul as well), so that the thoughts of many hearts may be disclosed.’

36 There was also a prophetess called Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having been widowed after a seven-year marriage, 37 and was now eighty-four. She never left the Temple, but worshipped with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 She came up at that moment and gave thanks to God, and spoke about Jesus to everyone who was waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 So when they had finished everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, and was full of wisdom, and God’s grace was upon him.

The Boy Jesus

41 Jesus’ parents used to go to Jerusalem every year for the Passover festival. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the feast days were over, they began the journey back, but the boy Jesus remained in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t know; 44 they thought he was in the travelling party, and went a day’s journey before looking for him among their relatives and friends.

45 When they didn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 And so it happened that after three days they found him in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was astonished at his understanding and his answers.

48 When they saw him they were quite overwhelmed.

‘Child,’ said his mother, ‘why did you do this to us? Look – your father and I have been in a terrible state looking for you!’

49 ‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied. ‘Didn’t you know that I would have to be getting involved with my father’s work?’

50 They didn’t understand what he had said to them. 51 He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and lived in obedience to them. And his mother kept all these things in her heart.

52 So Jesus became wiser and taller, gaining favour both with God and with the people.