Listen to: Mavis Staples "I Woke Up This Morning (with My Mind Stayed on Jesus)" (a favorite song of Rosa Parks)
This week, 50 years ago, a quiet, unassuming Black woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in a black section of a segregated bus for a White male passenger in Montgomery, Alabama. Her response not only resulted in her arrest, but sparked a 13 month mass protest and bus boycott that led to a Supreme Court ruling that declared segregation on public buses unconstitutional.
Many believe that Parks got on that bus that day and out-of-the-blue decided not to give up her seat to the white passenger. Perhaps there was a bit of that. Or that she was just physically tired. That is definitely not true. Parks herself has said, if anything, the only thing she was tired of was of “giving in.” However, Parks' story is deeper than that. Rosa Parks was exposed to advocacy for racial equality in her early childhood by the example of her parents and grandparents.
Her husband, Raymond Parks, whom she married in 1932, was an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Parks became actively involved in civil rights issues and joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP in 1943, serving as the chapter's youth leader as well as secretary to NAACP President E.D. Nixon—a post she held until 1957. Parks was not even the first to challenge bus segregation. Bayard Rustin (1942), Irene Morgan (1946), Sarah Louise Keys (1952), Claudette Colvin (a 15 year old girl handcuffed, arrested and forcibly removed from a bus in 1955), Aurelia Browder (1955), Susie McDonald (1955), and Mary Louise Smith (1955) were all arrested for not giving up their bus seats months before Parks made her move. So Parks had examples that paved that way for her. On one hand this let her know what was in store. On the other, it let her know that she was not alone.
It’s a good thing to read of Rosa Park’s refusal to get off the bus during our first week of Advent. Advent calls us to prepare ourselves for this journey to Christmas. Too often we get off the bus as its heading its way to Christmas. We jump off to go shopping. We hop off to get a holiday latte at Starbucks. Or we leave the bus to take in the sights: the Christmas tree or skaters at Rockefeller Center or the decorations on every street corner; How many of us gawk at the houses trying to outdo each other for how many strings of lights and candy cane displays can be crammed in the front yard?
Some of us never make it to the bus in the first place: even before Advent began last Sunday, November 29, we were off to the races: Grey Thursday (AKA Thanksgiving), Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday....it’s three weeks to Christmas and if the bank’s not broke, then morally and spiritually something is amiss within us. We’ve gotten on the wrong bus. We’re heading the wrong way. We should be on the bus to Bethlehem not to Retail King. We’ve got to get on the right bus. And stay on it.
I am glad for Rosa Park’s story this week because her determination to say “No” came from a community experience. She was trained and taught what was right and wrong. She knew she had a right to be on the bus, and the only way she was leaving the bus was by being arrested. It was a matter of justice and righteousness. So it is with us. As people of faith, we need to stay on the bus to Bethlehem for dear life. We have the stories of the scriptures, songs, the psalms and the prophets, to teach us “to make a way for the Lord.” We have each other’s stories and examples to build us up. Isn’t that how we should pass our time as make our way on the bus?
We need to stay on the bus, and not let the world push us around. We need to stay on the bus and not get swallowed up by the gods of consumerism, greed and indifference. We need to make run on our bus for those who are cold and hungry, and spiritually searching, and invite them along for the ride. We need to ride this Advent Bus until it is full and no one is left behind. Then we will reach our destination with our hearts full of hope, our spirits filled with peace, our souls ablaze with joy and bound together with love. That's how we will know that we have followed our true journey – and achieved our final destination - the birth of the Christ Child within each of us—full of grace and truth.
Prayer: Advent God: Put us on the bus and keep us there. Fill it up will all your searching people. May we journey this advent faithfully, seeking you, serving you and those who need to be on the the bus with us. Amen.