It began in the Temple. It began with a passionate prayer that opened the gates of heaven.
An elderly couple – the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, who both were “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord” –were nonetheless barren, just as Abraham and Sarah had been barren. So Zechariah entered the Sanctuary of the Temple and lit the incense – sending the smoke of prayer up to the Lord – while all the people, oppressed and desolate, gathered and waited outside the gates.
His prayer was heard, and the angel Gabriel appeared to the old man, just as he had done so long ago when he appeared to Abraham in Canaan, to announce the miraculous coming of the long-awaited son of his old age. Gabriel now said that this boy was to be named John – ‘the Grace and Mercy of God’. John would be “filled with the Holy Spirit”, and as God’s agent he would go before the Lord to turn the hearts of parents toward their children, and to turn the hearts of children back to God, and in the spirit of Elijah he would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
But again, as with Abraham, there was a tinge of doubt. Zechariah said to the angel, “Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.” The angel assured him that all is possible for God, and John, like Isaac, would come as foretold. This time, however, in response to his doubt, Gabriel muted Zechariah until the time of the birth, so that he could remain turned inward in a state of prayer, and would not be able to speak more words of doubt.
When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God again sent forth Gabriel to Mary and Joseph of the royal House of David, in the town of Nazareth, in Galilee. ‘Galilee’ means ‘revolution’, as in the revolution of the Sun, and ‘Nazareth’ means a place of special ‘sanctification’. Mary was in a state of great holiness. She was a “Virgin”: that is, her soul was pure and completely free of sin. Joseph also was a righteous man, who understood dreams much like his namesake, the first Joseph. Mary and Joseph were betrothed, but they were not yet married.
Gabriel came first to Mary, and said, “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever: and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
“Behold the handmaid of the lord,” Mary responded. “Be it unto me according to thy word.” Gabriel then departed, and Mary “arose” and “went into the hill country” to spend time with her kinswoman Elizabeth. “Blessed art thou among women,” Elizabeth said, and “blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” And Mary responded, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”
After three months, John was born in the hill country, and Mary returned home. Joseph now saw that she was with child, but “being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example”, he planned to divorce her quietly (the only legal way to end a betrothal).
But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
Then Joseph, being “raised from sleep”, awoke –the Eye of his Soul was opened — and he did just as the angel Gabriel had said.
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