Many have been at pains to set forth the history of what time has brought to fulfilment among us,
following the tradition of those first eye-witnesses who gave themselves up to the service of the word.
And I too, most noble Theophilus, have resolved to put the story in writing for thee as it befell, having first traced it carefully from its beginnings,
that thou mayst understand the instruction thou hast already received, in all its certainty.
In the days when Herod was king of Judaea, there was a priest called Zachary, of Abia’s turn of office, who had married a wife of Aaron’s family, by name Elizabeth;
they were both well approved in God’s sight, following all the commandments and observances of the Lord without reproach.
They had no child; Elizabeth was barren, and both were now well advanced in years.
He, then, as it happened, was doing a priest’s duty before God in the order of his turn of office;
and had been chosen by lot, as was the custom among the priests, to go into the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense there,
while the whole multitude of the people stood praying without, at the hour of sacrifice.
Suddenly he saw an angel of the Lord, standing at the right of the altar where incense was burnt.
Zachary was bewildered at the sight, and overcome with fear;
but the angel said, Zachary, do not be afraid; thy prayer has been heard, and thy wife Elizabeth is to bear thee a son, to whom thou shalt give the name of John.
Joy and gladness shall be thine, and many hearts shall rejoice over his birth,
for he is to be high in the Lord’s favour; he is to drink neither wine nor strong drink; and from the time when he is yet a child in his mother’s womb he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.
He shall bring back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God,
ushering in his advent in the spirit and power of an Elias. He shall unite the hearts of all, the fathers with the children, and teach the disobedient the wisdom that makes men just, preparing for the Lord a people fit to receive him.
And Zachary said to the angel, By what sign am I to be assured of this? I am an old man now, and my wife is far advanced in age.
The angel answered, My name is Gabriel, and my place is in God’s presence; I have been sent to speak with thee, and to bring thee this good news.
Behold, thou shalt be dumb, and have no power of speech, until the day when this is accomplished; and that, because thou hast not believed my promise, which shall in due time be fulfilled.
And now all the people were waiting for Zachary, and wondering that he delayed in the temple so long;
but he, when he came out, could speak no word to them; whereupon they made sure that he had seen some vision in the sanctuary. He could but stand there making signs to them, for he remained dumb.
And so, when the days of his ministry were at an end, he went back to his house.
It was after those days that his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she dwelt retired; she said,
It is the Lord who has done this for me, visiting me at his own time, to take away my reproach among men.
When the sixth month came, God sent the angel Gabriel to a city of Galilee called Nazareth,
where a virgin dwelt, betrothed to a man of David’s lineage; his name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name was Mary.
Into her presence the angel came, and said, Hail, thou who art full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women.
She was much perplexed at hearing him speak so, and cast about in her mind, what she was to make of such a greeting.
Then the angel said to her, Mary, do not be afraid; thou hast found favour in the sight of God.
And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call him Jesus.
He shall be great, and men will know him for the Son of the most High; the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob eternally;
his kingdom shall never have an end.
But Mary said to the angel, How can that be, since I have no knowledge of man?
And the angel answered her, The Holy Spirit will come upon thee, and the power of the most High will overshadow thee. Thus this holy offspring of thine shall be known for the Son of God.
See, moreover, how it fares with thy cousin Elizabeth; she is old, yet she too has conceived a son; she who was reproached with barrenness is now in her sixth month,
to prove that nothing can be impossible with God.
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be unto me according to thy word. And with that the angel left her.
In the days that followed, Mary rose up and went with all haste to a town of Juda, in the hill country
where Zachary dwelt; and there entering in she gave Elizabeth greeting.
No sooner had Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, than the child leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth herself was filled with the Holy Ghost;
so that she cried out with a loud voice, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
How have I deserved to be thus visited by the mother of my Lord?
Why, as soon as ever the voice of thy greeting sounded in my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed art thou for thy believing; the message that was brought to thee from the Lord shall have fulfilment.
And Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord;
my spirit has found joy in God, who is my Saviour,
because he has looked graciously upon the lowliness of his handmaid. Behold, from this day forward all generations will count me blessed;
because he who is mighty, he whose name is holy, has wrought for me his wonders.
He has mercy upon those who fear him, from generation to generation;
he has done valiantly with the strength of his arm, driving the proud astray in the conceit of their hearts;
he has put down the mighty from their seat, and exalted the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty-handed.
He has protected his servant Israel, keeping his merciful design in remembrance,
according to the promise which he made to our forefathers, Abraham and his posterity for evermore.
Mary returned home when she had been with her about three months;
meanwhile, Elizabeth’s time had come for her child-bearing, and she bore a son.
Her neighbours and her kinsfolk, hearing how wonderfully God had shewed his mercy to her, came to rejoice with her;
and now, when they assembled on the eighth day for the circumcision of the child, they were for calling him Zachary, because it was his father’s name;
but his mother answered, No, he is to be called John.
And they said, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name,
and began asking his father by signs, what name he would have him called by.
So he asked for a tablet, and wrote on it the words, His name is John; and they were all astonished.
Then, of a sudden, his lips and his tongue were unloosed, and he broke into speech, giving praise to God;
so that fear came upon all their neighbourhood, and there was none of these happenings but was noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea.
All those who heard it laid it to heart; Why then, they asked, what will this boy grow to be? And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.
Then his father Zachary was filled with the Holy Ghost, and spoke in prophecy:
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has visited his people, and wrought their redemption.
He has raised up a sceptre of salvation for us among the posterity of his servant David,
according to the promise which he made by the lips of holy men that have been his prophets from the beginning;
salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all those who hate us.
So he would carry out his merciful design towards our fathers, by remembering his holy covenant.
He had sworn an oath to our father Abraham, that he would enable us
to live without fear in his service, delivered from the hand of our enemies,
passing all our days in holiness, and approved in his sight.
And thou, my child, wilt be known for a prophet of the most High, going before the Lord, to clear his way for him;
thou wilt make known to his people the salvation that is to release them from their sins.
Such is the merciful kindness of our God, which has bidden him come to us, like a dawning from on high,
to give light to those who live in darkness, in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
And as the child grew, his spirit achieved strength, and he dwelt in the wilderness until the day when he was made manifest to Israel.