In the beginning
To my friend who loves God: Many people have tried to put together a story about the life and times of Christ, using material from the earliest disciples and other eyewitnesses. It seemed to me that it would help if I shared my research with you. I have independently compiled a sequence of all the events in proper order. I hope that these words will assure you of the truth of everything that you have already been taught.
In the Beginning, God created everything through his Word. The Word was with God, and was God. All things were created through the Word of God. The Word was filled with life, and that life was the light of all people. That light shines forth in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overpower it.
Gabriel predicts John’s birth
There once was a man named Zachariah who was a priest in the Abijah division when Herod was the king of Judea. He was married to a woman named Elizabeth, who, like him, was descended from the priestly line of Aaron. Both were honorable people and followed all the commandments of the Lord. They were childless because Elizabeth was barren and both of them were elderly.
Zachariah was chosen by lot to enter the inner sanctuary to burn incense when his division was on duty in the Temple. The entire assembly stood outside praying while he performed this task. An angel suddenly appeared, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Seeing the angel, Zachariah was startled and a feeling of terror fell upon him.
Then the angel said to him, “Have no fear Zachariah, your prayer has been heard! Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to a son and you will name him John. Both of you will be filled with joy and gladness, and many people will rejoice with you at his birth. He will be a champion of the Lord. He must never drink alcohol, because he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will convince many Israelites to turn to the Lord their God. He will serve God with the same kind of spirit and power as Elijah, and will transform the hearts of parents to be like their children, and the hearts of the disobedient back to the wisdom of the faithful, to prepare all the people for the coming of the Lord.”
Zachariah challenged the angel, saying “How can I know that this is going to happen? Both I and my wife are very old.”
Then the angel replied “I am Gabriel, who stands in the very presence of God. I was sent to tell you this good news. But because you didn’t believe my words, which will come true in due course, you will lose your ability to speak until the child is born.”
Meanwhile, the congregation outside was wondering why Zachariah was taking so long in the sanctuary. When he finally appeared before them they deduced from his gestures (since he wasn’t able to speak) that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He continued to work at the Temple until his assignment was over, and then he returned home.
Shortly after that, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and she went into seclusion for five months. She said “Blessed is the Lord for taking away my public disgrace!”
The angel Gabriel predicts Jesus’ birth
Six months after John was conceived, God sent the angel Gabriel to a village in Galilee called Nazareth to visit a woman named Mary. She was engaged to Joseph, a descendant of King David.
The angel said “Rejoice! The Lord is with you! You are blessed and favored among women!”
Mary was perplexed by his words and wondered what he meant by this greeting. The angel continued, saying “Have no fear Mary, for God has chosen you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and called the Son of God, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor King David. He will reign over the house of Israel forever and his kingdom will have no end!”
Mary asked the angel, “How is this possible since I have never been with a man?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and you will be overshadowed by the power of the Most High. Therefore this child will be completely holy and God will be his father. Consider this – your relative Elizabeth who was barren and elderly has conceived and is six months pregnant. Nothing is impossible with God!”
“I am a servant of the Lord,” said Mary. “May everything happen to me that you have said.” Then the angel left.
Mary visits Elizabeth
Shortly afterwards, Mary went to visit Elizabeth at her home in the hill country of Judea. The child leapt within Elizabeth’s womb when Mary called out her greeting, and Elizabeth was suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit.
Elizabeth exclaimed with a loud voice, “God has blessed you above all other women, and the fruit of your womb is blessed! How did I deserve the honor of the mother of my Lord coming to me? As soon as I heard your greeting, my child leapt for joy in my womb! She who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her is blessed.”
Mary praises God
Mary then said, “I proclaim the greatness of God from the depths of my being, and my spirit rejoices in God who is my Savior, because God has looked with favor on me, a lowly servant girl. From now on every generation will call me blessed because the Mighty One has done great things for me, and his name is Holy. God’s mercy is eternal for those who respect and honor him. He has done mighty things with his arm – he scatters those who are proud, he has overthrown the rulers and lifted up the meek, he has provided a feast for the hungry, while sending away the rich empty-handed. God has remembered his promise to be merciful and has helped his servant Israel, just as he promised to Abraham and all of his descendants.”
Mary stayed with Elizabeth until just before John was born.
The birth and naming of John
The time arrived for Elizabeth to give birth to her son. The word spread quickly to all of her neighbors and relatives about how merciful God had been to her, and they celebrated with her about her son’s birth.
Eight days after the baby was born, at the circumcision ceremony, everyone thought that the child was going to be named Zachariah after his father, but Elizabeth protested, saying “No! He will be called John.”
The guests said to her “None of your relatives has that name, so why would you name him that?” They motioned to his father to find out what the child’s name should be. To everyone’s surprise, he wrote “His name is John” on a piece of paper.
Immediately he was able to speak and he began to praise God. All of the neighbors became greatly concerned, and the news of this unusual occurrence spread throughout the hillside of Judea. Everyone who heard the news thought about it very deeply, saying “I wonder what this child will become?” They could tell that the hand of the Lord was with him.
Then Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to prophesy.
“Give praise to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to visit his people to redeem them. He has brought forth a mighty king from within the house of his servant David to save us, just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago – someone to save us from the clutches of our enemies and those who hate us. He has shown mercy to our ancestors and remembered his holy covenant that he swore to Abraham – to rescue us from the hands of our enemies and make it possible for us to serve in the presence of God freely and without fear, with holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Mighty One, for you will prepare the way before the Lord, by teaching people how to find salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.
Because of God’s great mercy and compassion, a dawn from heaven is about to shine upon us, to give light to those who live in darkness and suffer in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet in the ways of peace.”
The child grew and became strong in the Spirit, and he lived in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to the people of Israel.
Here is the story concerning the birth of Jesus.
His mother Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph, but while she was still a virgin it became known that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Because her fiancé Joseph was an honorable and righteous man, he decided to break their engagement off privately rather than publicly disgracing her.
But after he had decided what he was going to do, an angel appeared to him in a dream saying “Joseph, son of David, don’t be concerned about taking Mary as your wife, because the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you shall name him Jesus (meaning “Yahweh saves”) because he will free people from their sins.”
All of this fulfilled the prophecy spoken by God through the prophet Isaiah: “Behold the virgin will become pregnant and gave birth to a son, and he shall be called Emmanuel.” (Which means “God is with us.”)
After Joseph woke up, he did as the angel had told him. He took Mary as his wife but did not know her intimately until she gave birth. And Joseph named him Jesus.
At that time Caesar Augustus sent out a decree that a census should be taken of the whole empire. This was at the time when Quirinius was the governor of Syria. Everyone was required to go to his family’s ancestral hometown for the census.
Because Joseph was descended from King David, he had to travel from his home in Nazareth in Galilee, to Bethlehem, the city of David in Judea. He took his fiancée Mary with him.
It came time for her to give birth while they were there. She gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and placed him in a manger, because there was no place for them to stay at the inn.
The shepherds and the angels
Some shepherds were watching their flocks in fields near the village that night.
Suddenly an angel appeared, and the glory of the Lord shone forth. The shepherds were full of fear at the sight. But the angel reassured them, saying “Don’t be afraid! I bring you good news that will bring great joy to everyone – the Messiah, the Savior, was born for you in Bethlehem this very night! This is how you will recognize him – you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
Suddenly the angel was joined by a vast number of other heavenly beings who were praising God and saying –
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people of good will.”
After all the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other “Let’s go to Bethlehem right now to see this thing that the Lord has revealed to us.” They hurried off to the village and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the manger.
After they left, they told everyone about the message they had received from the angels about the child, and everyone was amazed. But Mary treasured up all these things in her heart and often thought about them.
Then the shepherds returned to their flocks, giving glory and praise to God because of everything they had just seen and heard.
The circumcision and presentation
Eight days after he was born, the baby was circumcised and named Jesus, in accordance with what the angel said before he was conceived.
When the time came for Mary’s offering at the Temple as required by the Law after the birth of a child, his parents brought him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. The Law states that every firstborn male shall be dedicated to the Lord. They were required to offer a sacrifice of either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
Simeon’s prophetic praise
There was a righteous and devout man named Simeon who lived in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit was with him, and he looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. Led by the Spirit, he entered the Temple complex when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to dedicate him to the Lord, according to the Law.
Taking Jesus in his arms, Simeon praised God and said “Lord, now I can die in peace. For I have seen the Savior as you promised I would. In the presence of everyone you have prepared a light of revelation to the nations and glory to your people Israel.”
Joseph and Mary were amazed at what he was saying about their child. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary “Truly, this child is destined to unsettle many in Israel and to be a sign that will be spoken against. You will be sick at heart that people’s scheming thoughts will be made known.”
A prophetess named Anna was also at the Temple that day. She was a daughter of Phanuel, who was of the tribe of Asher. She was very old, and had been a widow for 84 years, having been married for seven years before that. She served God constantly with fasting and prayer, never leaving the Temple complex.
While Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, she also began to praise God and tell everyone that their long awaited Messiah had arrived.
The visit of the Magi
Wise men entitled Magi (who were ministers and astrologers from Eastern lands) arrived in Jerusalem after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, during the reign of King Herod. They began to ask “Where is the King of the Jews who has just been born? We came to worship him because we saw his star rising in the east.”
King Herod and everyone in Jerusalem were upset and concerned by their question. Herod called a meeting of all the chief priests and scribes, asking them where the Messiah would be born.
They answered that it was to be in Bethlehem of Judea because the prophet Micah said “You, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not an unimportant Judean village, because a leader will come from you who will shepherd the people of Israel.”
Then Herod secretly sent for the Magi to find out exactly when they first saw the star. He told them “Go to Bethlehem and find this child, then come back and let me know where he is so that I can go and worship him as well.”
The Magi continued their journey to Bethlehem after leaving Herod. They were overjoyed because the star that they had seen led them straight to where the child was. They entered the house where the child and his mother were and fell to their knees to worship him. They presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Then they returned home by a different route because they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod.
The flight into Egypt
The Magi left, and an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to Joseph in a dream. The angel said “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the baby and his mother and stay there until I tell you it is safe to return. Herod is about to search for the child to kill him.”
That very night he got up, and taking Mary and the child, escaped to Egypt. They stayed there until King Herod died. This fulfilled the prophecy of Hosea who said: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
The massacre of the innocents
Herod flew into a rage when he realized that the Magi had outwitted him. He gave orders that all male children who were two years or less who lived in and around Bethlehem were to be massacred. This was because the Magi had told him that the star first appeared two years earlier.
This fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah who said “Cries of tears and mourning were heard in Ramah, Rachel weeping for her children, and she was unable to be consoled because they are dead.”
The return to Nazareth
Herod died, and an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph while he was in Egypt, saying “Get up! Take the child and his mother and return to Israel, because those who wanted to kill the child are dead.”
Joseph immediately traveled to Israel with Jesus and Mary. While on the way he learned that Herod’s son, Archelaus, was king over Judea, so he was afraid to travel there. He was warned in a dream as well, so he went to Galilee instead and settled in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled the words of the prophets who said “He will be called a Nazarene.”
Jesus grew up in Nazareth, becoming strong, wise, and filled with God’s grace.