Seeing that many others have undertaken to draw up accounts of the events that have reached their fulfilment among us,
as these were handed down to us by those who from the outset were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word,
I in my turn, after carefully going over the whole story from the beginning, have decided to write an ordered account for you, Theophilus,
so that your Excellency may learn how well founded the teaching is that you have received.
In the days of King Herod of Judaea there lived a priest called Zechariah who belonged to the Abijah section of the priesthood, and he had a wife, Elizabeth by name, who was a descendant of Aaron.
Both were upright in the sight of God and impeccably carried out all the commandments and observances of the Lord.
But they were childless: Elizabeth was barren and they were both advanced in years.
Now it happened that it was the turn of his section to serve, and he was exercising his priestly office before God
when it fell to him by lot, as the priestly custom was, to enter the Lord's sanctuary and burn incense there.
And at the hour of incense all the people were outside, praying.
Then there appeared to him the angel of the Lord, standing on the right of the altar of incense.
The sight disturbed Zechariah and he was overcome with fear.
But the angel said to him, 'Zechariah, do not be afraid, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son and you shall name him John.
He will be your joy and delight and many will rejoice at his birth,
for he will be great in the sight of the Lord; he must drink no wine, no strong drink; even from his mother's womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit,
and he will bring back many of the Israelites to the Lord their God.
With the spirit and power of Elijah, he will go before him to reconcile fathers to their children and the disobedient to the good sense of the upright, preparing for the Lord a people fit for him.'
Zechariah said to the angel, 'How can I know this? I am an old man and my wife is getting on in years.'
The angel replied, 'I am Gabriel, who stand in God's presence, and I have been sent to speak to you and bring you this good news.
Look! Since you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time, you will be silenced and have no power of speech until this has happened.'
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and were surprised that he stayed in the sanctuary so long.
When he came out he could not speak to them, and they realised that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. But he could only make signs to them and remained dumb.
When his time of service came to an end he returned home.
Some time later his wife Elizabeth conceived and for five months she kept to herself, saying,
'The Lord has done this for me, now that it has pleased him to take away the humiliation I suffered in public.'
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
He went in and said to her, 'Rejoice, you who enjoy God's favour! The Lord is with you.'
She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean,
but the angel said to her, 'Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God's favour.
Look! You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David;
he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.'
Mary said to the angel, 'But how can this come about, since I have no knowledge of man?'
The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God.
And I tell you this too: your cousin Elizabeth also, in her old age, has conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month,
for nothing is impossible to God.'
Mary said, 'You see before you the Lord's servant, let it happen to me as you have said.' And the angel left her.
Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah.
She went into Zechariah's house and greeted Elizabeth.
Now it happened that as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
She gave a loud cry and said, 'Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?
Look, the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy.
Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.'
And Mary said: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
because he has looked upon the humiliation of his servant. Yes, from now onwards all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name,
and his faithful love extends age after age to those who fear him.
He has used the power of his arm, he has routed the arrogant of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones and raised high the lowly.
He has filled the starving with good things, sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his faithful love
-according to the promise he made to our ancestors -- of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.
Mary stayed with her some three months and then went home.
The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son;
and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had lavished on her his faithful love, they shared her joy.
Now it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father,
but his mother spoke up. 'No,' she said, 'he is to be called John.'
They said to her, 'But no one in your family has that name,'
and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called.
The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, 'His name is John.' And they were all astonished.
At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God.
All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea.
All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. 'What will this child turn out to be?' they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.
His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited his people, he has set them free,
and he has established for us a saving power in the House of his servant David,
just as he proclaimed, by the mouth of his holy prophets from ancient times,
that he would save us from our enemies and from the hands of all those who hate us,
and show faithful love to our ancestors, and so keep in mind his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham,
that he would grant us, free from fear, to be delivered from the hands of our enemies,
to serve him in holiness and uprightness in his presence, all our days.
And you, little child, you shall be called Prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare a way for him,
to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the faithful love of our God in which the rising Sun has come from on high to visit us,
to give light to those who live in darkness and the shadow dark as death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Meanwhile the child grew up and his spirit grew strong. And he lived in the desert until the day he appeared openly to Israel.
The New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) is a Catholic translation of the Bible published in 1985. The New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) has become the most widely used Roman Catholic Bible outside of the United States. It has the imprimatur of Cardinal George Basil Hume.
Like its predecessor, the Jerusalem Bible, the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) version is translated "directly from the Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic." The 1973 French translation, the Bible de Jerusalem, is followed only "where the text admits to more than one interpretation." Introductions and notes, with some modifications, are taken from the Bible de Jerusalem.
Source: The Very Reverend Dom (Joseph) Henry Wansbrough, OSB, MA (Oxon), STL (Fribourg), LSS (Rome), a monk of Ampleforth Abbey and a biblical scholar. He was General Editor of the New Jerusalem Bible. "New Jerusalem Bible, Regular Edition", pg. v.
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