1 1So many others have tried their hand at putting together a story of the wonderful harvest of Scripture and history that took place among us, 2using reports handed down by the original eyewitnesses who served this Word with their very lives. 3Since I have investigated all the reports in close detail, starting from the story’s beginning, I decided to write it all out for you, most honorable Theophilus, 4so you can know beyond the shadow of a doubt the reliability of what you were taught. A Childless Couple Conceives 5During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. 6Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. 7But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old. 8It so happened that as Zachariah was carrying out his priestly duties before God, working the shift assigned to his regiment, 9it came his one turn in life to enter the sanctuary of God and burn incense. 10The congregation was gathered and praying outside the Temple at the hour of the incense offering. 11Unannounced, an angel of God appeared just to the right of the altar of incense. 12Zachariah was paralyzed in fear. 13But the angel reassured him, “Don’t fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John. 14You’re going to leap like a gazelle for joy, and not only you—many will delight in his birth. 15He’ll achieve great stature with God. “He’ll drink neither wine nor beer. He’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment he leaves his mother’s womb. 16He will turn many sons and daughters of Israel back to their God. 17He will herald God’s arrival in the style and strength of Elijah, soften the hearts of parents to children, and kindle devout understanding among hardened skeptics—he’ll get the people ready for God.” 18Zachariah said to the angel, “Do you expect me to believe this? I’m an old man and my wife is an old woman.” 19But the angel said, “I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news. 20But because you won’t believe me, you’ll be unable to say a word until the day of your son’s birth. Every word I’ve spoken to you will come true on time—God’s time.” 21Meanwhile, the congregation waiting for Zachariah was getting restless, wondering what was keeping him so long in the sanctuary. 22When he came out and couldn’t speak, they knew he had seen a vision. He continued speechless and had to use sign language with the people. 23When the course of his priestly assignment was completed, he went back home. 24It wasn’t long before his wife, Elizabeth, conceived. She went off by herself for five months, relishing her pregnancy. 25“So, this is how God acts to remedy my unfortunate condition!” she said. A Virgin Conceives 26In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth 27to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary. 28Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her: Good morning! You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, Beautiful inside and out! God be with you. 29She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. 30But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: 31You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus. 32He will be great, be called ‘Son of the Highest.’ The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; 33He will rule Jacob’s house forever— no end, ever, to his kingdom.” 34Mary said to the angel, “But how? I’ve never slept with a man.” 35The angel answered, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Highest hover over you; Therefore, the child you bring to birth will be called Holy, Son of God. 36“And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months’ pregnant! 37Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.” 38And Mary said, Yes, I see it all now: I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say. Then the angel left her. Blessed Among Women 39Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, 40straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42and sang out exuberantly, You’re so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb, also blessed! 43And why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord visits me? 44The moment the sound of your greeting entered my ears, The babe in my womb skipped like a lamb for sheer joy. 45Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true! 46And Mary said, I’m bursting with God–news; 47I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. 48God took one good look at me, and look what happened— I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, 49the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. 50His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. 51He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. 52He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. 53The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. 54He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high. 55It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now. 56Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went back to her own home. The Birth of John 57When Elizabeth was full–term in her pregnancy, she bore a son. 58Her neighbors and relatives, seeing that God had overwhelmed her with mercy, celebrated with her. 59On the eighth day, they came to circumcise the child and were calling him Zachariah after his father. 60But his mother intervened: “No. He is to be called John.” 61“But,” they said, “no one in your family is named that.” 62They used sign language to ask Zachariah what he wanted him named. 63Asking for a tablet, Zachariah wrote, “His name is to be John.” That took everyone by surprise. 64Surprise followed surprise—Zachariah’s mouth was now open, his tongue loose, and he was talking, praising God! 65A deep, reverential fear settled over the neighborhood, and in all that Judean hill country people talked about nothing else. 66Everyone who heard about it took it to heart, wondering, “What will become of this child? Clearly, God has his hand in this.” 67Then Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, 68Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he came and set his people free. 69He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives, and in the very house of David his servant, 70Just as he promised long ago through the preaching of his holy prophets: 71Deliverance from our enemies and every hateful hand; 72Mercy to our fathers, as he remembers to do what he said he’d do, 73What he swore to our father Abraham— 74a clean rescue from the enemy camp, So we can worship him without a care in the world, 75made holy before him as long as we live. 76And you, my child, “Prophet of the Highest,” will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways, 77Present the offer of salvation to his people, the forgiveness of their sins. 78Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, 79Shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, Then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace. 80The child grew up, healthy and spirited. He lived out in the desert until the day he made his prophetic debut in Israel.
The Message® / © 2002 Eugene H. Peterson About