Updated: Aug 15, 2022
A message of encouragement from the story of the Annunciation
The recent disruptions through Covid mean that we’ve all done less travelling than we might have done in the last few years. Even if you’ve not used your suitcase recently, just picture it in your mind and consider its main features. My guess is that, whatever its size, it will have a handle (or two), a zip, wheels and possibly a lock.
If we pretend we have travelled back in time and it’s 1950 and we were picturing a suitcase from that era, would there be any features of your current suitcase that would not have been a feature of a suitcase back then? Yes, you’ve got it – the 1950s suitcase would not have had any wheels. Nowadays I don’t think I’ve ever seen a suitcase without wheels. It’s now part and parcel of suitcase design. And what a good idea it is to have wheels on a suitcase. And the person you have to thank for this is David Dudley Bloom. Born in Pennsylvania in 1922, Bloom served as the youngest commanding officer in the US Navy in World War Two. After the war, he worked in a variety of jobs, eventually becoming director of product development for the Atlantic Luggage Company.
One day in 1958, he was struck by the thought – why do suitcases have to be so heavy and awkward to carry? Why not put wheels on them? Wasn’t this the perfect idea for a world moving in the direction of mass travel? So, he took a prototype of his idea to the chairman of the company. His reaction? He scoffed at the idea, describing it as impractical and unwieldy. “Who’d want to buy luggage on wheels?” he said. Isn’t it interesting how people can be resistant to innovation?
The idea of wheeled suitcases was resisted by companies for many years. It was only in the early 1970s that another US firm decided to give it a go and sales took off immediately. The ordinary traveller could instantly see the benefit of the new invention. (1)
Bloom’s idea is an example of what is called recombinant innovation. The word recombinant is derived from the word combine. You take two ideas, previously unrelated, and fuse them together. So, take a suitcase and a set of wheels. Combine them together and you get the wheeled suitcase. Recombinant ideas are often dramatic, because they can bridge gaps and open up brand new possibilities. Recombinant ideas are important for our personal lives. How often have we found ourselves in a life situation when we have longed for something new and creative to happen for us? Some kind of new start, something to propel us beyond the current circumstances of our lives. Perhaps you are facing into just that kind of situation where you long for new possibilities for your life.
Inventors down the years have dreamt up many good recombinant ideas, like David Dudley Bloom. But every human innovator is only mimicking the creativity of God. God is the finest creator of recombinant innovation. One of his greatest examples of recombinant innovation is human procreation. You take two different people and you combine them in intimacy and, under the right conditions, an entirely new unique human being comes to conception and birth. That is awesome recombinant innovation from God.
But the most incredible example of recombination is the story of the Annunciation, the announcement to Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus (Luke 1 verses 26-38). This is a story of conception and ultimately new birth. But there is a special emphasis in this story on the way God works to bring recombinant newness. And I believe that this can be an encouraging message for us whenever we are looking for some kind of creative breakthrough – in our work, our health, our finances, our relationships. God wants to encourage us that He’s the Master of creative newness, who can bring fresh possibilities to birth in our lives. The Annunciation story shows that when God wants to work with recombinant innovation, He uses the word of His promise and the power of His Spirit.
As I’ve already mentioned, the conception and birth of a baby is part of God amazing recombinant design in nature. And the most amazing example of conception and birth related to Jesus. What we see in the Annunciation story is the absolute height of God’s creative newness at work. The conception of Jesus was a Word and Spirit event. Let’s look in some more detail at the story.
First of all, the conception of Jesus involved the word of God’s promise.
The angel Gabriel brings a message from God to Mary, that she will become the mother of Jesus. Gabriel brings a word of promise; He was telling her in advance of something that would come to pass. He conveys God’s message with human words. The story is framed by the words of God’s promise in verses 29 and 37:
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
“For no word from God will ever fail.”
The word of His promise was the first element that God took, when He wanted to do His most telling work of creative newness.
The second element God took was the power of His Holy Spirit
When Mary asked Gabriel how she could possibly become a virgin mother, Gabriel told her (verse 35):
“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
The conception of Jesus involved not just the word of God’s promise, but also the power of the Holy Spirit working in Mary’s life. Joseph would not be involved in the genetic process of Jesus being born. The Holy Spirit would be the agent of conception and that’s why Jesus would be called the Son of God.
Here was God’s recombinant creativity – He took the word of His promise and the power of His Spirit and He makes them collide benevolently in the life of Mary and through that fusion is brought to birth the most amazing person to ever walk the earth, Jesus. From the fusion of Word and Spirit in the life of Mary, God brought to birth someone who would bring eternal life and hope to the world. If God did that, then here’s a big implication for you and me:
When the word of God’s promise and the overshadowing of His Spirit benevolently collide in your life, what creative newness might God bring to birth in you? Because if the fusion of Word and Spirit can bring to birth Jesus, the most amazing person ever, then there is no limit to the newness God can bring.
When the word of His promise and the power of His Spirit become a fusion in your life, then God may bring to birth in you not only a creative work that will bless your life, but He can also do something that brings hope and life to the world, through you.
And when we think about the churches to which we belong, there is a similar message of encouragement for us as communities of faith. When the word of God’s promise and the power of His Spirit come together in our churches, what creative newness might God bring to birth among us and through us? When Word and Spirit fuse together in our churches, there is no limit to the creative life and hope that God may bring.
Today, why not pray that from the womb of your church God might bring to new birth many people and initiatives that will touch lives for the better? Today is a day to remember that God says to us, as Gabriel said to Mary,
“Greetings, you who are highly favoured, the Lord is with you!”
God is with us as local churches and He’s with each one of us as individuals. God’s desire is to do more recombinant creativity with us all. But does He just do His work of newness on His own? Do we have a role to play in all this? I think the Annunciation story today shows us that there is a role for us to play.
David Dudley Bloom had a great idea to put wheels on suitcases, but he needed others to accept the idea to bring it into reality. The first person with whom Bloom shared the concept, poured scorn on the concept and his idea was unable to advance. When Gabriel spoke to Mary, she could have reacted like the chairman of the Atlantic Luggage Company. She could have said to Gabriel, “Sorry, but your idea is a bit left-field. I don’t think it will work. I’ll give it a miss.” She could have said, “Look, Gabriel, it’s an interesting concept, but I think it’s an idea before its time. Let’s just park it for now and we could talk about it again next year.”
She didn’t respond in that way. Here’s what she said:
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Mary’s response featured humility and acceptance. “I am the Lord’s servant,” – that’s humility. “May your word to me be fulfilled,” – that’s acceptance.
God is looking for humble and willing people in whom He can fuse the word of His promise and the power of His Spirit. Only humble and accepting vessels are of any use to Him.
As we’ve seen, some people like to resist recombinant ideas. We so cling to the status quo, that we’d rather reject any offer of newness, even if it might be helpful to us. Today, let’s be humble and willing like Mary towards God’s potential to bring creative newness into our lives and churches.
Humility and acceptance regarding God’s newness mean two things, as it did for Mary. It means letting God’s Word have more and more room in our lives. The more we learn and live the Bible, the more the word of God’s promise gets activated in our lives.
When Mary said to Gabriel, “May your word to me be fulfilled,” she was saying, “Gabriel, I’m going to hold on to what you have said, because your words come from God.” What has God been saying to you recently through the Bible? Or through the prompting of the Holy Spirit? Hold on to the things that God has said. These are His words of promise to you. He’s going to keep His promises. So, hold onto God’s words of promise.
Secondly, humility and acceptance towards God means opening our lives to the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, so that God’s transforming love and power can be at work in us. A positive response towards God’s Word and Spirit will place us in the best position to see His creative newness come to birth in us.
Recombinant ideas. Take two different things and fuse them together to bring forth an entirely new possibility. David Dudley Bloom took wheels and a suitcase and conceived an idea that would revolutionise travel.
God as the Master of recombinant innovation, takes not wheels and a suitcase, but His Word and His Spirit as the tools of His creativity. And when the word of His promise and the overshadowing of His Spirit collide, then neither our lives, nor our churches will ever be the same.
The story of David Dudley Bloom's idea for the wheeled suitcase as an example of recombinant thinking is outlined in Syed M, Rebel Ideas, 2019, John Murray Publishers, London, p127-128