- Nativity of John (Luke 1)
In the reign of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the division called after Abijah. His wife, whose name was Elizabeth, was also a descendant of Aaron. They were both righteous people, who lived blameless lives, guiding their steps by all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. But they had no child, Elizabeth being barren; and both of them were advanced in years.
One day, when Zechariah was officiating as priest before God, during the turn of his division, it fell to him by lot, in accordance with the practice among the priests, to go into the Temple of the Lord and burn incense; and, as it was the Hour of Incense, the people were all praying outside. And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right of the Altar of Incense. Zechariah was startled at the sight and was awe-struck. But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, whom you will call by the name John. He will be to you a joy and a delight; and many will rejoice over his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; he will not drink any wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from the very hour of his birth, and will reconcile many of the Israelites to the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and with the power of Elijah, 'to reconcile fathers to their children' and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, and so make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him."
"How can I be sure of this?" Zechariah asked the angel. "For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years."
"I am Gabriel," the angel answered, "who stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And now you will be silent and unable to speak until the day when this takes place, because you did not believe what I said, though my words will be fulfilled in due course."
Meanwhile, the people were watching for Zechariah, wondering at his remaining so long in the Temple. When he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they perceived that he had seen a vision there. But Zechariah kept making signs to them, and remained dumb. And, as soon as his term of service was finished, he returned home. After this his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and lived in seclusion for five months. "The Lord has done this for me," she said, "he has shown me kindness and taken away the public disgrace of childlessness under which I have been living."
Six months later the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a maiden there who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. Her name was Mary. Gabriel came into her presence and greeted her, saying: "You have been shown great favor – the Lord is with you."
Mary was much disturbed at his words, and was wondering to herself what such a greeting could mean, when the angel spoke again: "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will give him the name Jesus. The child will be great and will be called 'Son of the Most High,' and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David, and he will reign over the descendants of Jacob for ever; And to his kingdom there will be no end."
"How can this be?" Mary asked the angel. "For I have no husband."
"The Holy Spirit will descend on you," answered the angel, "and the Power of the Most High will overshadow you; and therefore the child will be called 'holy,' and 'Son of God.' And Elizabeth, your cousin, is herself also expecting a son in her old age; and it is now the sixth month with her, though she is called barren; for no promise from God will fail to be fulfilled."
"I am the servant of the Lord," exclaimed Mary; "let it be with me as you have said." Then the angel left her.
Soon after this Mary set out, and made her way quickly into the hill-country, to a town in Judah; and there she went into Zechariah's house and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child moved within her, and Elizabeth herself was filled with the Holy Spirit, and cried aloud: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is your unborn child! But how have I this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, as soon as your greeting reached my ears, the child moved within me with delight! Happy indeed is she who believed that the promise which she received from the Lord would be fulfilled."
And Mary said:
"My soul exalts the Lord,
my spirit delights in God my Savior;
for he has remembered his humble servant girl;
And from this hour all ages will count me happy!
Great things has the Almighty done for me;
And holy is his name.
From age to age his mercy rests
On those who honor him.
Mighty are the deeds of his arm;
He scatters the proud with their own devices,
he casts down princes from their thrones,
and the humble he uplifts,
the hungry he loads with gifts,
and the rich he sends empty away.
He has stretched out his hand to his servant Israel,
Ever mindful of his mercy
(As he promised to our forefathers)
For Abraham and his race for ever."
Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned to her home. When Elizabeth's time came, she gave birth to a son; and her neighbors and relations, hearing of the great goodness of the Lord to her, came to share her joy. A week later they met to circumcise the child, and were about to call him 'Zechariah' after his father, when his mother spoke up: "No, he is to be called John."
"You have no relation of that name!" they exclaimed; and they made signs to the child's father, to find out what he wished the child to be called. Asking for a writing-tablet, he wrote the words – 'His name is John.' Everyone was surprised; and immediately Zechariah recovered his voice and the use of his tongue, and began to bless God. All their neighbors were awe-struck at this; and throughout the hill-country of Judea the whole story was much talked about; and all who heard it kept it in mind, asking one another – "What can this child be destined to become?" For the Power of the Lord was with him.
Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and, speaking under inspiration, said:
"Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel,
Who has visited his people and wrought their deliverance,
and has raised up for us the Strength of our salvation
In the house of his servant David –
As he promised by the lips of his holy prophets of old –
salvation from our enemies and from the hands of all who hate us,
showing mercy to our forefathers,
And mindful of his sacred covenant.
This was the oath which he swore to our forefather Abraham –
That we should be rescued from the hands of our enemies,
and should serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness,
In his presence all our days.
And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
For you will go before the Lord to make ready his way,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
In the forgiveness of their sins,
through the tender mercy of our God,
Whereby the Dawn will break on us from heaven,
to give light to those who live in darkness and the shadow of death,
And guide our feet into the way of peace."
The child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the Wilds until the time came for his appearance before Israel.
- John and his baptism of Jesus, Imprisonment of John (Luke 3)
In the fifteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was Governor of Judea, Herod Ruler of Galilee, his brother Philip Ruler of the territory comprising Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias Ruler of Abilene, and when Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, a command from God came to John, the son of Zechariah, while he was in the wilderness. And John went through the whole district of the Jordan, proclaiming baptism on repentance, for the forgiveness of sins. This was in fulfillment of what is said in the writings of the prophet Isaiah –
'The voice of one crying aloud in the wilderness:
"Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make his paths straight.
Every chasm will be filled,
Every mountain and hill will be leveled,
The winding ways will be straightened,
The rough roads made smooth,
and everyone will see the salvation of God."'
And John said to the crowds that went to be baptized by him: "You children of snakes! Who has prompted you to seek refuge from the coming judgment? Let your lives, then, prove your repentance; and do not begin to say among yourselves 'Abraham is our ancestor,' for I tell you that out of these stones God is able to raise descendants for Abraham! Already, indeed, the axe is lying at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that fails to bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."
"What are we to do then?" the people asked. "Let anyone who has two coats," answered John, "share with the person who has none; and anyone who has food do the same."
Even tax-gatherers came to be baptized, and said to John: "Teacher, what are we to do?"
"Do not collect more than you have authority to demand," John answered. And when some soldiers on active service asked "And we – what are we to do?" he said: "Never use violence, or exact anything by false accusation; and be content with your pay."
Then, while the people were in suspense, and were all debating with themselves whether John could be the Christ, John, addressing them all, said: "I, indeed, baptize you with water; but there is coming one more powerful than I, and I am not fit even to unfasten his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand so that he may clear his threshing-floor, and store the grain in his barn, but the chaff he will burn with a fire that cannot be put out."
And so with many different appeals John told his good news to the people. But Prince Herod, being rebuked by John respecting Herodias, the wife of Herod's brother, and for all the evil things that he had done, crowned them all by shutting John up in prison. Now after the baptism of all the people, and when Jesus had been baptized and was still praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit came down on him in the form of a dove, and from the heavens came a voice – "You are my dearly loved son; you bring me great joy."
- John's disciples and fast (Luke 5
"John's disciples," they said to Jesus, "Often fast and say prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, while yours are eating and drinking!"
- John questions Jesus (Luke 7)
All these events were reported to John by his disciples. So he summoned two of them, and sent them to the Master to ask – "Are you 'the coming one,' or are we to look for some one else?"
When these men found Jesus, they said: "John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask – 'Are you 'the coming one,' or are we to look for somebody else?'" At that very time Jesus had cured many people of diseases, afflictions, and wicked spirits, and had given many blind people their sight. So his answer to the question was: "Go and report to John what you have witnessed and heard – the blind recover their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are made clean, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the good news is told to the poor. And blessed is the person who finds no hindrance in me."
When John's messengers had left, Jesus, speaking to the crowds, began to say with reference to John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed waving in the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in rich clothing? Why, those who are accustomed to fine clothes and luxury live in royal palaces. What then did you go to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and far more than a prophet. This is the man of whom scripture says –
'I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
and he will prepare your way before you.'
There is, I tell you, no one born of a woman who is greater than John; and yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he."
(All the people, when they heard this, and even the tax-gatherers, having accepted John's baptism, acknowledged the justice of God. But the Pharisees and the students of the law, having rejected John's baptism, frustrated God's purpose in regard to them.)