A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Acts of God

by Fr Jim Kershaw

by Fr Jim Kershaw

Part One : God Working Through Jesus

The Earliest Years

“AKA The Gospel of  Luke”


Dearest Friends of God,

There have been several chronicles relating how Jesus toiled among us. In my studies of them, I have found that all these have been written by either eyewitnesses or early servants of the Word. Having scrutinised the tales carefully I decided to write a well-ordered account so you might appreciate the truth of the matters about which you have been enlightened.


The Annunciation, Fra Bartolomeo

The Birth of John. The Baptiser Foretold

During the reign of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah within the priestly order of Abijah; Elizabeth his wife was a descendant of Aaron. Both Zechariah and Elizabeth were virtuous and blameless for they obeyed all the commandments and rulings of the Lord. But they had no children because Elizabeth was barren and by this time both were getting older.

It was usual for priests to be chosen for special duties by ballot and one day during his period of service Zechariah was chosen to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to offer incense. At the time the incense was offered, the assembly of the people was praying outside. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and stood at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; he began to tremble with fright. But the angel said to him, "Don’t be afraid, Zechariah, God has heard your prayer, Elizabeth is to bear you a son and you are to name him John. You will be joyful and glad; many will rejoice at his birth for John will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He is not to drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will reconcile many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be given the spirit and power of Elijah to help him to turn the hearts of parents to their children, to enable those disobedient to recognise the wisdom of the virtuous and to make a people ready for the Lord." Zechariah said to the angel, "How can this be so? I am an old man and my wife is getting elderly." The angel replied, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and was sent to speak with you and give you this good news. But, just because you didn’t believe my words, which will come true, you will be made dumb, unable to speak, until the time these things happen. "

Outside, the people who were waiting for Zechariah began to wonder at his unusual delay in leaving the sanctuary. Finally, when he did come out, he couldn’t speak to them and they realised that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He tried signalling to them but remained unable to speak. When his time of service ended, he returned home.

Shortly after those days, Elizabeth conceived and, for five months, remained in seclusion. She said, The Lord has done this for me; he has looked lovingly on me and taken away the disgrace I have had to bear among my people.

The Birth Of Jesus Foretold

A month later, in Elizabeth’s sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee to visit Mary, a virgin engaged to a man called Joseph of the house of David. Gabriel addressed Mary; "Greetings, most honoured one! The Lord is with you." However, Mary was very puzzled by the angel’s words and weighed up what this greeting was all about. The angel said to her, "Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you are beloved by God. Now you are to conceive in your womb and bear a son whose name is to be Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; the Lord God is to give him the throne of King David, his forbear. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and there will be no end for his kingdom." Mary said to the angel, "How can this happen since I am a virgin?" The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come to you and the power of God will overshadow you. Your son will be holy and will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." Then Mary said, "I am the Lord’s servant; if this is what God wants, it is what I want." Then the angel left her.

Mary Visits Elizabeth

Immediately Mary set out and hurried to a Judean hill country town; there she went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. As Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, her child leaped in her womb. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth cried aloud, "You are blessed among all women, and the child in your womb is also blessed. How is it that the mother of my Lord comes to me? As soon as I heard your greeting, my child leaped for joy. I am blessed too for believing that the Lord’s promise to me would be fulfilled. "

And Mary burst out in a song of praise,

My soul reflects the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked kindly on my humility. 

Surely, from now on all people will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 

His mercy is for everyone who is in awe of him, right to the end of time. 

He has shown that his arm is strong; by rejecting those who take pleasure in their proud thoughts.

He dethrones the mighty from their seats of power, and lifts up the humble;  he has fed the hungry with good food, and dismissed the rich with their empty desires. 

He has helped his faithful servants of Israel, by giving them his mercy, just as he had promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to all his descendants.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months, helping out until the baby was born; then she returned to her own home.

His-name-is-johnThe Birth Of John The Baptist

The time came for Elizabeth to give birth and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives appreciated that the Lord had shown her great love and so rejoiced with her.

On the eighth day they prepared to circumcise the child, proposing to call him Zechariah after his father. But Elizabeth objected, "No; he is to be called John." They replied “But that’s not a family name,” and attempting to thwart this choice they signalled to Zechariah to find out what name he had decided on for the boy. He wrote on his writing tablet, “His name is John.” The family and guests were astonished. Immediately Zechariah’s speech returned, his tongue became free again and he spoke in praise of God. Amazement turned to awe for all the family and neighbours; these matters were gossiped about throughout the Judean hill country. Everyone who heard of the events pondered on them; quite a number wondered what life had in store for John. Truly God’s hand rested on him.

Meanwhile his father Zechariah became filled with the Holy Spirit and broke out with praise, saying:

Blessed be the Lord and God of Israel, because he has been generous to his people, freeing them from evil. 

He has provided us with a mighty saviour out of the family of his servant David,  just as he had promised through the proclamations of the holy prophets of days gone by. 

They pledged we would be rescued from our enemies and from the actions of all those who hate us. 

Now God has shown us the mercy he promised through our ancestors and still brings his holy covenant to mind,  the oath that he had declared to our father Abraham, that once we had been rescued from our enemies, we would be able to serve him fearlessly as holy and decent people for the rest of our lives. 

And John, you are to be a prophet of God Most High; going before the Lord preparing the paths, by which he will give the message of salvation to his people, forgiving them their sins. 

God’s tender mercies will open the dawn from his kingdom,  offering light to all who are sitting in darkness and in the darkness of death, so guiding us on the pathway of peace.

John grew and became strong in spirit, living privately until the time came for him to appear in public and present the message he would be given.

shepherds-pic-bookThe Birth Of Jesus

About this time Emperor Augustus decreed that a census of all people in the Roman empire should be taken. This first empire-wide census was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everybody was instructed to go to their tribal towns for registration. So Joseph went from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea, the city of David because he was descended from the house and family of David. He was required to be registered along with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was pregnant. While they were still in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to deliver her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn, a son and wrapped him in bands of cloth. He was laid in a manger because the family had been unable to obtain places in the inn.

Nearby a number of shepherds were living out in the fields where they looked after their flock during the nights. This night an angel of the Lord joined them and they were terrified because the Lord’s glory shone right around them. But the angel said to them,

Don’t be afraid, I have good news of great joy for you and all people: today, in the city of David, a Saviour is born to you; he is the promised Messiah. Look for and find a baby boy, wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. 

Suddenly this angel was joined by a great many others; all of them were praising God and saying,

Glory to God in the highest heavens,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!BirthChrist

When the angels left the shepherds and returned to heaven, they said to one another, “Let us go straight over to Bethlehem and see this event which has occurred and which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried into the town and found Mary and Joseph; the child was indeed lying in the manger. Immediately they burst out with the story they had been told about the child; all those who heard it were astonished with the shepherds’ comments. Mary would remember everything that was said. She often thought about this time, and wondered what it all meant for her family. Meanwhile the shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for what they had heard and seen; all was exactly as they had been promised.

Jesus Is Named And Presented In The Temple

Eight days later, following the Jewish custom, the child was circumcised and he was called Jesus, the name he was given by the angel before Mary conceived him.

When it was time for Mary’s rite of purification according to the law of Moses, she and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord because the law of the Lord requires that every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord; the law also requires that a sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons be offered.

In Jerusalem there was a God-fearing man called Simeon; he was devout and deeply religious, he looked forward to the solace and relief of Israel and God’s Spirit rested on him. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Prompted by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple just as Mary and Joseph came in with the child Jesus  to fulfil their obligations under the law. Simeon took Jesus in his arms, praised God and said,

“Master, I may die in peace now for I have seen your Messiah as you promised; the salvation which you have prepared for the benefit of all peoples. He will be a light of revelation for the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel.”

Mary and Joseph were astonished by what was being said concerning Jesus. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Anna daughter of Phanuel

Anna daughter of Phanuel

There was also a prophetess in the Temple; her name was Anna and she was the daughter of Phanuel, a member of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had been married for only seven years before being widowed and she was now aged eighty-four. She never left the temple and worshiped there, fasting and praying night and day. As she came by, she saw the baby in his mother’s arms and began to praise God and speaking about Jesus to all who were yearning for the redemption of Jerusalem.

After they had completed their obligations under the law of the Lord, they went home to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong; he was blessed with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

The Boy Jesus In The Temple

Now every year Mary and Joseph, with family and friends, would go up to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. The year he turned twelve they went up as usual and when the festival was over they set out for home; but this time Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his family knowing it. Assuming that he was among the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey before looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they could not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to continue their search. Three days later they found him in the temple school; he was sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his questions. When his parents found him they were astonished and Mary said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “But why were you searching for me? Did you not realise that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they could not understand his reply.

The Boy Jesus in the Temple Adriaan van der Werff

The Boy Jesus in the Temple,
Adriaan van der Werff

Then Jesus went home with them; they arrived in Nazareth where he submitted to them for some eighteen years. Mary treasured all these things in her heart while Jesus increased in wisdom and in divine and human favour.  

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