Herod was king of Judea. During the time he was ruling, there was a priest named Zechariah. He belonged to a group of priests named after Abijah. His wife Elizabeth also came from the family line of Aaron.
Both of them did what was right in God's eyes. They obeyed all the Lord's commandments and rules faithfully.
But they had no children, because Elizabeth was not able to have any. And they were both very old.
One day Zechariah's group was on duty. He was serving as a priest in God's temple.
He happened to be chosen, in the usual way, to go into the temple of the Lord. There he was supposed to burn incense.
The time came for this to be done. All who had gathered to worship were praying outside.
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah. The angel was standing at the right side of the incense altar.
When Zechariah saw him, he was amazed and terrified.
But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will have a child. It will be a boy, and you must name him John.
He will be a joy and delight to you. His birth will make many people very glad.
He will be important in the Lord's eyes. "He must never use wine or other such drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit from the time he is born.
He will bring many of Israel's people back to the Lord their God.
And he will prepare the way for the Lord. He will have the same spirit and power that Elijah had. He will teach parents how to love their children. He will also teach people who don't obey to be wise and do what is right. In this way, he will prepare a people who are ready for the Lord."
Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man, and my wife is old too."
The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I serve God. I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.
And now you will have to be silent. You will not be able to speak until after John is born. That's because you did not believe my words. They will come true when the time is right."
During that time, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out. They wondered why he stayed in the temple so long.
When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple. They knew this because he kept motioning to them. He still could not speak.
When his time of service was over, he returned home.
After that, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant. She stayed at home for five months.
"The Lord has done this for me," she said. "In these days, he has been kind to me. He has taken away my shame among the people."
In the sixth month after Elizabeth had become pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee.
He was sent to a virgin. The girl was engaged to a man named Joseph. He came from the family line of David. The virgin's name was Mary.
The angel greeted her and said, "The Lord has given you special favor. He is with you."
Mary was very upset because of his words. She wondered what kind of greeting this could be.
But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary. God is very pleased with you.
You will become pregnant and give birth to a son. You must name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. The Lord God will make him a king like his father David of long ago.
He will rule forever over his people, who came from Jacob's family. His kingdom will never end."
"How can this happen?" Mary asked the angel. "I am a virgin."
The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come to you. The power of the Most High God will cover you. So the holy one that is born will be called the Son of God.
Your relative Elizabeth is old. And even she is going to have a child. People thought she could not have children. But she has been pregnant for six months now.
Nothing is impossible with God."
"I serve the Lord," Mary answered. "May it happen to me just as you said it would." Then the angel left her.
At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in Judea's hill country.
There she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby inside her jumped. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
In a loud voice she called out, "God has blessed you more than other women. And blessed is the child you will have!
But why is God so kind to me? Why has the mother of my Lord come to me?
As soon as I heard the sound of your voice, the baby inside me jumped for joy.
You are a woman God has blessed. You have believed that what the Lord has said to you will be done!"
Mary said, "My soul gives glory to the Lord.
My spirit delights in God my Savior.
He has taken note of me even though I am not important. From now on all people will call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me. His name is holy.
He shows his mercy to those who have respect for him, from parent to child down through the years.
He has done mighty things with his arm. He has scattered those who are proud in their deepest thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones. But he has lifted up people who are not important.
He has filled those who are hungry with good things. But he has sent those who are rich away empty.
He has helped the people of Israel, who serve him. He has always remembered to be kind
to Abraham and his children down through the years. He has done it just as he said to our people of long ago."
Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months. Then she returned home.