During 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.
Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God.
But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.
It so happened that as Zachariah was carrying out his priestly duties before God, working the shift assigned to his regiment,
it came his one turn in life to enter the sanctuary of God and burn incense.
The congregation was gathered and praying outside the Temple at the hour of the incense offering.
Unannounced, an angel of God appeared just to the right of the altar of incense.
Zachariah was paralyzed in fear.
But 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.
You're going to leap like a gazelle for joy, and not only you - many will delight in his birth.
He'll achieve great stature with God.
He will turn many sons and daughters of Israel back to their God.
He 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."
Zachariah said to the angel, "Do you expect me to believe this? I'm an old man and my wife is an old woman."
But the angel said, "I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news.
But 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."
Meanwhile, the congregation waiting for Zachariah was getting restless, wondering what was keeping him so long in the sanctuary.
When 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.
When the course of his priestly assignment was completed, he went back home.[
It wasn't long before his wife, Elizabeth, conceived. She went off by herself for five months, relishing her pregnancy.
"So, this is how God acts to remedy my unfortunate condition!" she said.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth
to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin's name, Mary.
Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her: Good morning! You're beautiful with God's beauty, Beautiful inside and out! God be with you.
She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that.
But the angel assured her, "Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you:
You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.
He will be great, be called 'Son of the Highest.' The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David;
He will rule Jacob's house forever - no end, ever, to his kingdom."
Mary said to the angel, "But how? I've never slept with a man."
The 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.
"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!
Nothing, you see, is impossible with God."
And 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
Mary didn't waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country,
straight to Zachariah's house, and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit,
and sang out exuberantly, You're so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb, also blessed!
And why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord visits me?
The moment the sound of your greeting entered my ears, The babe in my womb skipped like a lamb for sheer joy.
Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!
And Mary said, I'm bursting with God-news;
I'm dancing the song of my Savior God.
God 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,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It's exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went back to her own home.
Published by permission. Originally published by NavPress in English as THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language copyright 2002 by Eugene Peterson. All rights reserved. (The Message Bible Online)