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THE ANGEL BY THE ALTAR
Luke i: 1 to 80.
T the time when the story of the New Testament began,
the land of Israel, called also the land of Judea, was
ruled by a king named Herod. He was the first of
several Herods, who at different times ruled either the
whole of the land, or parts of it. But Herod was not
the highest ruler. Many years before this time, the
Romans, who came from the city of Rome in Italy, had
won all the land around the Great Sea, the sea which we
call the Mediterranean; and above King Herod of Judea
was the great king at Rome, who was called "Emperor,"
ruling over all the lands, and over the land of Judea
among them. So Herod, though king of Judea, obeyed his
over-lord, the emperor at Rome. At the time when this
story began, the emperor at Rome was named Augustus
At this time the land where the Jews lived was full of
people. Jerusalem was its largest city, and in
Jerusalem was standing the Temple of the Lord, which
King Herod had begun to build anew, taking the place of
the old Temple built in the time of Zerubbabel (see
Story 105), which had long needed
repair. There were also many other large cities
besides Jerusalem. In the south was Hebron, among the
mountains; on the shore of the Great Sea were Gaza and
Joppa and Caesarea. In the middle of the land were
Shechem and Samaria; and in the north were Nazareth and
Cana; down by the shore of the Sea of Galilee were
Tiberias, and Capernaum, and Bethsaida. Far up in the
north, at the foot of snowy Mount Hebron, was another
Caesarea; but so that it might not be confused with
Caesarea upon the sea-coast, this city
 was called
Caesarea-philippi, or "Philip's Caesarea," from the
name of one of Herod's sons.
One day, an old priest named Zacharias was leading the
service of worship in the Temple. He was standing in
front of the golden altar of incense, in the Holy
Place, and was holding in his hand a censer or cup full
of burning coals and incense; while all the people were
worshipping in the court of the Temple, outside the
court of the priests, where the great altar of
burnt-offering stood (see Stories 27 and 28).
Suddenly Zacharias saw an angel from the Lord standing
on the right side of the altar of incense. He felt a
great fear when he saw this strange being, with shining
face; but the angel said to him:
"Do not be afraid, Zacharias; for I have come from the
Lord to bring you good news. Your wife Elizabeth shall
have a son, and you shall name him John. You shall be
made glad, for your son John shall bring joy and
gladness to many. He shall be great in the sight of
the Lord; and he shall never taste wine nor strong
drink as long as he lives; but he shall be filled with
God's Holy Spirit. He shall lead many of the people of
Israel to the Lord, for he shall go before the Lord in
the power of Elijah the prophet, as was promised by
Malachi, the last of the old prophets (see the last
Story). He shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the
children, and those who are disobeying the Lord to do
As Zacharias heard these words, he was filled with
wonder, and could hardly believe them true. He was now
an old man, and his wife Elizabeth was also old; so
that they could not expect to have a child. He said to
"How shall I know that your words are true,
for I am an old man and my wife is old?"
"I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God,"
said the angel, "and I was sent from the Lord to
speak to you, and to bring you this good news. But
because you did not believe my words you shall become
dumb, and shall not be able to speak until this which I
have said comes to pass."
All this time, the people outside in the court, were
wondering why the priest stayed so long in the Temple.
When at last he came out, they found that he could not
speak a word; but made signs to them, to tell them that
he had seen a vision in the Temple.
After the days of his service were over, Zacharias went
 own home, which was near Hebron, a city of the
priests, among the mountains in the south of Judea.
When his wife Elizabeth found that God was soon to give
her a child, she was very happy and praised the Lord.
About six months after Zacharias saw the vision in the
Temple, the same angel Gabriel was sent from the Lord
to a city in the part of the land called Galilee, which
was in the north. The city to which the angel was sent
was Nazareth. There the
 angel found a young girl named
Mary, who was a cousin to Elizabeth. Mary was soon to
be married to a good man who had sprung from the line
of King David, though he was not himself a king, or a
rich man. He was a carpenter or wood-worker, living in
Nazareth, and his name was Joseph. The angel came into
the room where Mary was, and said to her:
"Hail, woman favored by the Lord; the Lord is with you!"
Mary was surprised at the angel's words, and wondered
what they could mean. Then the angel spoke again, and
"Do not be afraid, Mary. The Lord has given to you his
favor and has chosen you to be the mother of a son whose
name shall be Jesus, which means "salvation," because
he shall save his people from their sins. He shall be
great; and shall be called the Son of God; and the Lord
shall give to him the throne of his father David. He
shall be a king; and shall reign over the people of God
forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end."
But Mary could not see how all this was to come to
pass. And the angel said to her:
"The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of
the Most High God shall be over you; and the holy child
which you shall have shall be called the Son of God."
Then the angel told Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was
soon to have a child through the power of the Lord.
And when Mary heard all this she said, "I am the
servant of the Lord, to do his will. Let it be to me
as you have said."
THE ANGEL SPEAKING TO MARY
When the angel had given his message and had gone away,
Mary rose up in haste, and made a journey to the home
of Zacharias and Elizabeth, eighty miles away in the
south country. When Elizabeth saw Mary, she was filled
with the spirit of the Lord, and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed
among men shall be your son! And why is it that the
mother of my Lord comes to visit me? Blessed is the
woman who believed that the promise of the Lord to her
shall be made true!"
ELIZABETH GREETS MARY
Then Mary was filled with the Spirit of the Lord, and
broke out into a song of praise. She stayed with
Elizabeth for nearly three months, and then went again
to her own home at Nazareth.
As the angel had said, to the aged woman Elizabeth was
given a son. They were going to name him Zacharias,
after his father. But his mother said, "No, his name
shall be John."
 "Why," they said, "none of your family have ever been
They asked his father Zacharias, by signs, what name he
wished to be given to the child. He asked for
something to write upon; and when they brought it, he
wrote, "His name is John."
Then all at once the power to hear and to speak came
back to Zacharias. He spoke, praising and blessing
God; and he sang a song of thanks to God, in which he
"You, O child, shall be called a prophet of the Most
High; to go before the Lord, and to make ready his
When John was growing up, they sent him out into the
desert on the south of the land and there he stayed
until the time come for him to preach to the people,
for this child became the prophet John the Baptist.
THE WELL OF THE VIRGIN MARY, AT NAZARETH