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1DEAR THEOPHILUS, Many people have already written an account of the events which have happened among us,

2basing their work on the evidence of those who, we know, were eyewitnesses as well as teachers of the message.

3I have therefore, decided, since I have traced the course of happenings carefully from the beginning, to set them down fro you myself in their proper order,

4so that you may have reliable information about the matters in which you have already had instruction.

5The story begins in the days when Herod was king of Judaea with a priest called Zacharias (who belonged to the Abijah section of the priesthood), whose wife Elisabeth was, like him, a descendant of Aaron.

6They were both truly religious people, blamelessly observing all the Lord's commandments and requirements.

7They were childless through Elisabeth's infertility, and both of them were getting on in years.

8One day, while Zacharias was performing his priestly functions (it was the turn of his division to be on duty),

9it fell to him to go into the sanctuary and burn the incense.

10The crowded congregation outside was praying at the actual time of the incenseburning,

11when an angel of the Lord appeared on the right side of the incensealtar.

12When Zacharias saw him, he was terribly agitated and a sense of awe swept over him.

13But the angel spoke to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias; your prayers have been heard. Elisabeth your wife will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.

14This will be joy and delight to you and many more will be glad because he is born.

15He will be one of God's great men; he will touch neither wine nor strong drink and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment of his birth.

16He will turn many of Israel's children to the Lord their God.

17He will go out before God in the spirit and power of Elijahto reconcile fathers and children, and bring back the disobedient to the wisdom of good menand he will make a people fully ready for their Lord."

18But Zacharias replied to the angel, "How can I know that this is true? I am an old man myself and my wife is getting on in years..."

19"I am Gabriel," the angel answered. "I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and tell you this good news.

20Because you do not believe what I have said, you shall live in silence, and you shall be unable to speak a word until the day that it happens. But be sure that everything that I have told you will come true at the proper time."

21Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zacharias, wondering why he stayed so long in the sanctuary.

22But when he came out and was unable to speak a word to themfor although he kept making signs, not a sound came from his lipsthey realised that he had seen a vision in the Temple.

23Later, when his days of duty were over, he went back home,

24and soon afterwards his wife Elisabeth became pregnant and kept herself secluded for five months.

25"How good the Lord is to me," she would say, "now that he has taken away the shame that I have suffered."

26Then, in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a Galilean town, Nazareth by name,

27to a young woman who was engaged to a man called Joseph (a descendant of David). The girl's name was Mary.

28The angel entered her room and said, "Greetings to you, Mary. O favored one!the Lord is with you!"

29Mary was deeply perturbed at these words and wondered what such a greeting could possibly mean.

30But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; God loves you dearly.

31You are going to be the mother of a son, and you will call him Jesus.

32He will be great and will be known as the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his forefather, David,

33and he will be king over the people of Jacob for ever. His reign shall never end."

34Then Mary spoke to the angel, "How can this be," she said, "I am not married!"

35But the angel made this reply to her: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Your child will therefore be called holythe Son of God.

36Your cousin Elisabeth has also conceived a son, old as she is. Indeed, this is the sixth month for her, a woman who was called barren.

37For no promise of God can fail to be fulfilled."

38"I belong to the Lord, body and soul" replied Mary, "let it happen as you say." And at this the angel left her.

39With little delay Mary got ready and hurried off to the hillside town in Judaea

40where Zacharias and Elisabeth lived. She went into their house and greeted Elisabeth.

41When she heard Mary's greeting, the unborn child stirred inside her and she herself was fined with the Holy Spirit,

42and cried out, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is your child!

43What an honour it is to have the mother of my Lord come to see me!

44As soon as your greeting reached my ears, the child within me jumped for joy!

45Oh, how happy is the woman who believes in God, for his promises to her come true."

46Then Mary said, "My heart is overflowing with praise of my, Lord,

47my soul is full of joy in God my Saviour.

48For he has deigned to notice me, his humble servant and all generations to come will call me the happiest of women!

49The One who can do all things has done great things for meoh, holy is his Name!

50Truly, his mercy rests on those who fear him in every generation

51He has shown the strength of his arm, he has swept away the high and mighty.

52He has set kings down from their thrones and lifted up the humble.

53He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.

54Yes, he has helped Israel, his child: he has remembered the mercy

55that he promised to our forefathers, to Abraham and his sons for evermore!"

56So Mary stayed with Elisabeth about three months, and then went back to her own home.

57Then came the time for Elisabeth's child to be born, and she gave birth to a son.

58Her neighbors and relations heard of the great mercy the Lord had shown her and shared her joy.

59When the eighth day came, they were going to circumcise the child and call him Zacharias, after his father,

60but his mother said, "Oh, no! He must be called John."

61"But none of your relations is called John," they replied.

62And they made signs to his father to see what name he wanted the child to have.

63He beckoned for a writingtablet and wrote the words, "His name is John", which greatly surprised everybody.

64Then his power of speech suddenly came back, and his first words were to thank God.

65The neighbors were awestruck at this, and all these incidents were reported everywhere in the hillcountry of Judaea.

66People turned the whole matter over in their hearts, and said, "What is this child's future going to be? For the Lord's blessing is plainly upon him."

67Then Zacharias, his father, filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking like a prophet, said,

68"Blessings on the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has turned his face towards his people and has set them free!

69And he has raised up for us a standard of salvation in the house of his servant David.

70Long, long ago, through the words of his holy prophets, he promised to do this for us,

71so that we should be safe from our enemies and secure from all who hate us.

72So does he continue the mercy he showed to our forefathers. So does he remember the holy agreement he made with them and

73the oath which he swore to our father Abraham,

74to make us this gift: that we should be saved from the hands of our enemies, and in his presence should serve him unafraid

75in holiness and righteousness all our lives.

76"And you, little child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way for his coming.

77It will be for you to give his people knowledge of their salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.

78Because the heart of our God is full of mercy rewards us, the first light of Heaven shall come to visit us

79to shine on those who lie in darkness and under the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the path of peace."

80The little child grew up and became strong in spirit. He lived in lonely places until the day came for him to show himself to Israel

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