Luke's Birth Story

LUKE 1.5-2.20
(NEB translation)

IN THE DAYS of Herod king of Judaea there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of the priesthood called after Abijah. His wife also was of priestly descent; her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were upright and devout, blamelessly observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. But they had no children, for Elizabeth was barren, and both were well on in years.

Once, when it was the turn of his division and he was there to take part in divine service, it fell to his lot, by priestly custom, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer the incense; and the whole congregation was at prayer outside. It was the hour of the incense-offering. There appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing on the right of the altar of incense. At this sight, Zechariah was startled, and fear overcame him. But the angel said: to him, 'Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard: your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. Your heart will thrill with joy and many will be glad that he was born; for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He shall never touch wine or strong drink. From his very birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit; and he will bring back many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will go before him as forerunner, possessed by the spirit and power of Elijah, to reconcile father and child, to convert the rebelious to the ways of the righteous, to prepare a people that shall be fit for the Lord.'

Zechariah said to the angel, 'How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well on in years.' The angel replied, 'I am Gabriel; I stand in attendance I upon God, and I have been sent to speak to You and bring you this good news. But now listen: You will lose your powers of speech, and remain silent until the day when these things happen to you, because you have not believed me, though at their proper time my words will be proved true.'

Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, surprised that he was staying so long inside. When he did come out he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had had a vision in the sanctuary. He stood there making signs to them, and remained dumb. When his period of duty was completed Zechariah returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she lived in seclusion, thinking, 'This is the Lord's doing; now at last he has deigned to take away my reproach among men.'

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, with a message for a girl betrothed to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David; the girl's name was Mary. The angel went In and said to her, 'Greetings, most favoured one! The Lord is with you.' But she was deeply troubled by what he said and wondered what this greeting might mean. Then the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for God has been gracious to you; you shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall give him the name Jesus. He will be great; he will bear the title "Son of the Most High" ; the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David, and he will be king over Israel for ever; his reign shall never end.' 'How can this be,' said Mary, 'when 1 have no husband?' The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow You; and for that reason the holy child to be born will be called "Son of God". Moreover your kinswoman Elizabeth has herself conceived a son in her old age; and she who is reputed barren is now in her sixth month, for God's promises can never fail.' 'Here am I,' said Mary; 'I am the Lord's servant; as you have spoken, so be it.' Then the angel left her.

About this time Mary set out and went straight to a town in the uplands of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby stirred in her womb. Then Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried aloud, 'God's blessing is on you above all women, and his blessing is on the fruit of your womb. Who am I, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? I tell you, when your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby in my womb leapt for joy. How happy is she who has had faith that the Lord's promise would be fulfilled!' And Mary said;
‘Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord, rejoice, rejoice, my spirit, in God my saviour; so tenderly has he looked upon his servant, humble as she is. For, from this day forth, all generations will count me blessed, so wonderfully has he dealt with me, the Lord, the Mighty One.

His name is Holy; his mercy sure from generation to generation toward those who fear him; the deeds his own right arm has done disclose his might; the arrogant of heart and mind he has put to rout, he has torn imperial powers from their thrones, but the humble have been lifted high. The hungry he has satisfied with good things, the rich sent empty away.

He has ranged himself at the side of Israel his servant; firm in his promise to our forefathers, he has not forgotten to show mercy to Abraham and his children’s children, for ever.’

Mary stayed with her about three months and then returned home.

Now the time came for Elizabeth’s child to be born, and she gave birth to a son. When her neighbours and relatives heard what great favour the Lord had shown her, they were as delighted as she was. Then on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother spoke up and said, 'No! he is to be called John.' 'But', they said, 'there is nobody in your family who has that name.' They inquired of his father by signs what he would like him to be called. He asked for a writing-tablet and to the astonishment of all wrote down, 'His name is John.' Immediately , his lips and tongue were freed and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbours were struck with awe, and, everywhere in the uplands of Judaea the whole story became common talk. All who heard it were deeply impressed , and said, 'What will this child become?' for indeed the, hand of the Lord was upon him. And Zechariah his father was filled with the Holy Spirit and uttered this prophecy:
'Praise to the God of Israel!,
For he has turned to his people, saved them and set them free, and has raised up a deliverer of victorious power from the house of his servant David.

So he promised: age after age he proclaimed by the lips of his holy prophets, that he would deliver us from our enemies, out of the hands of all who hate us; that he would deal mercifully with our fathers, calling to mind his solemn covenant. Such was the oath he swore to our father Abraham, to rescue us from enemy hands, and grant us, free from fear, to worship him with a holy worship, with uprightness of heart, in his presence, our whole life long.

And you, my child, you shall be called Prophet of the Highest, for you will be the Lord's forerunner, to prepare his way and lead his people to salvation through knowledge of him, by the forgiveness of their sins: for in the tender compassion of our God the morning sun from heaven will rise upon us, to shine on those who live in darkness, under the cloud of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.'

As the child grew up he became strong in spirit; he lived out in the wilds until the day when he appeared publicly before Israel.

IN THOSE DAYS a decree was issued by the Emperor Augustus for a general registration throughout the Roman world. This was the first registration of its kind; it took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria. For this purpose everyone made his way to his own town; and so Joseph went up to Judaea from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to be registered at the city of David, called Bethlehem, because he was of the house of David by descent; and with him went Mary who was betrothed to him. She was pregnant, and while they were there the time came for her child to be born, and she gave birth to a son, her first-born. She wrapped him round, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them to lodge in the house.

Now in this same district there were shepherds out in the fields, keeping watch through the night over their flock, when suddenly there stood before them an angel of the Lord, and the splendour of the Lord shone round them. They were terror-struck, but the angel said, 'Do not be afraid; I have good news for you: thereis great joy coming to the whole people. Today in the city of David a deliverer has been born to you - the Messiah, the Lord. And this is your sign: you will find a baby lying all wrapped up, in a manger.' All at once there was with the angel a great company of the heavenly host, singing the praises of God :
‘Glory to God in highest heaven, And on earth his peace for men on whom his favour rests.'

After the angels had left them and gone into heaven the shepherds said to one another, ‘Come, we must go straight to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.' So they went with all speed and found their way to Mary and Joseph; and the baby was lylng in the manger. When they saw him, they recounted what they had been told about this child; and all who heard were astonished at what the shepherds said. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered over them. Meanwhile the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for what they had heard and seen; it had all happened as they had been told.