The experts tell us that multitasking is a myth. This is because, for most people, when we divide our attention between multiple tasks, we experience a diminishing return in our productivity.
While this is true for most people, it does not accurately describe God. In God’s sovereignty, there’s a variety of cards dealt by the hand of divine providence. And in each case, they serve to be the means wisely chosen to fulfill his most glorious end.
Great, Surprising News
In the early verses of Luke, we find the angelic announcement to the priest Zechariah that his wife will bear a son. This promised son would play a vital role in the ministry of Jesus Christ.
But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” (Luke 1:13)
This is great news. But it’s also surprising news.
Let’s start with the surprise that Elizabeth will bear a son. Why is this surprising? For one, she has been barren for her whole life. If a woman who was previously barren were said to be pregnant, this would be surprising news. Then there’s also the fact that they weren’t spring chickens. More than likely, they were in their late 60s. It would be one thing if a woman was in her late 20s and had difficulty getting pregnant. But we are talking about a woman with a long history of infertility. Beyond this, she would seem to be far beyond the average age for having a baby. Let’s not forget Zechariah. He also was quite old himself. Putting all of this together, we have to conclude that, naturally speaking, the prospect of a child was unlikely. But this is not natural. It’s supernatural. It’s a miracle, which by its definition, defies natural explanation.
Consider also his name. It was to be John, which means God is gracious. This is a good summary of what is happening here. God is gracious to this family. Tradition would have the father name the child. But when God names a child, it is usually an indication that God is going to use him in a significant way to push forward his kingdom agenda.
God Answers Two Prayers at Once
But then there is this matter of his prayer receiving an answer. Exactly what prayer is the angel talking about?
I think the announcement of the birth of John answers prayer on a couple of levels.
First, and most apparent, Zechariah has been praying for a child. There were financial, social, and emotional reasons for this request. It’s instructive to me that even in his old age with little natural reason for hope, he nevertheless has been praying for a child. And God has heard his prayer of pain and longing. He is providing a son.
This lets us know a little bit about how prayer works. Sometimes our prayers are answered immediately, other times they’re answered eventually, and other times they are denied for a better way. Sometimes “yes” other times “wait” and still others “no—I have something better.”
But there is also the big-picture, cosmic sense. This is the second level to their answered prayer. Earlier in the passage, Luke describes Zechariah and Elizabeth in this way:
And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. (Luke 1:6)
This does not mean that they never sinned, but concerning the Law of God, they were faithful. They were faithful saints who feared God and kept his commandments. Furthermore, this scene comes from a time of prayer for God’s people. It’s now, as the angel is talking to Zechariah that a throng of people outside the temple was praying. These faithful worshipers were longing for the consolation of Israel. So it seems clear that in an ultimate sense, the good news that the angel brings is related to the big picture, kingdom advancing, announcement of John.
In other words, God answers the prayer in a cosmic corporate sense by providing a personal, immediate blessing. God can multitask for his glory. He can show his kindness to his people while making an even bigger point for the kingdom.
Let me state it clearly: the good news that the angel is bringing is not primarily about the son for Elizabeth (though that’s undoubtedly God’s kindness to them). Instead, it’s that she will bear a son who will prepare the way of the Lord (Luke 1:16-17).
By providing a son for Zechariah and Elizabeth, God is meeting an acute burden and persistent longing in their lives. But at the same time, God is also at work to advance his kingdom agenda by preparing a way for the Messiah. God can multitask for his glory. His wisdom, sovereignty, and kindness are staggering. I love how God parades his perfections throughout the Christmas story, even in the lives of ordinary people like you and me.