My Advent reading yesterday morning took me back to road trips in the mid-1980’s when we would make the twelve hour drive in my dad’s beat up green Ford Granada with the peeling orange roof, to my grandparents’ house in Florida. There was no air conditioning and a leather interior, so our legs would stick to the seats, our hair would blow in the wind, and conversation was almost impossible. I’m still not sure why my parents let us bring crayons on those trips; they always melted in between the seats and we got crayon bits under our fingernails when we tried to pry them free. Lunch was either tuna fish sandwiches or egg salad, neatly wrapped in wax paper and packed in the small cooler my mom kept in the front seat. She and my dad shared coffee from their green thermal carafe and we were allowed to drink grape soda and choose our favorite candy bar at the pit stop after lunch. I almost always picked a Butterfinger, king sized if I was lucky.
Right before my little sister was born we bought a blue minivan, complete with air conditioning, fabric seats and a cassette player. We could spread out, keep the windows up and listen to our favorite music. My parents had a set of tapes they loved and played them during every trip, sometimes just to drive around town. It wasn’t long before we could sing every song, word for word. We belted out the echoes, harmonized, and hummed the instrumental interludes. It was a blast and when we talk about those songs, we still remember all the words, the harmony and every key change.
So here I am, thirty years later, and I stumble upon Isaiah 35 on a cold December morning in the middle of Advent:
“And the redeemed of the Lord will return and come to Zion with singing, crowned with unending joy. Joy and gladness will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee” (Isaiah 35:10).
These were the words to one of those beloved songs. When I learned them in elementary school, I didn’t know they were from the Bible. I didn’t understand what it meant to be redeemed, what Zion was, or why people would be coming back there with joy on their heads. The fleeing of sorrow and sighing held no meaning to my seven year old mind, much less my heart.
Today they do. Years of learning about the Bible, reading and studying it, and hearing the truth repeated over and over again is bearing fruit. I understand now that these words are a promise of a great day of restoration for God’s people — a people of which I have the privilege to join. Redemption isn’t just for the nation of Israel and Zion represents more than a mountain. Jesus’ second advent will be a glorious day for all who are in Christ. My Advent readings through Isaiah bring joy, comfort, and boost my hope.
I didn’t know what this verse meant, even when I could quote it verbatim all those years ago, but the seeds were planted and they took root. I look back and see all that my parents invested in us over the years, their diligence to repeatedly instruct us in the truth, and I’m grateful.
I’m also encouraged to press on. To keep investing in my kids’ faith today, in this season of Advent. Sure, we might read the same stories, sing the same Christmas songs, and hang up the same Advent calendar year after year. Rhythm, routine, traditions — whatever you want to call the ways we celebrate Advent — they have a purpose.
Bradley stopped his prayer mid-sentence during our family Advent reading the other night and sent everyone to bed. The baby was crying, the five year old was doing handstands, and the older ones were distracted by all the activity. Devotions felt like a waste of time that night. But yesterday’s reading in Isaiah was a reminder to me that the truth of God’s Word will not return void. If the words of scripture were impressed on my heart in the backseat of a minivan surrounded by the smell of stale coffee and tuna fish sandwiches, then it can sink down deep in my kids’ hearts when they’re squirming underneath the Christmas tree. We’re investing in our children with the truth of God’s word, making deposits that will hopefully produce a great return.
Our calling as parents is to be faithful in planting and watering the soil of our children’s hearts. When we feel discouraged by a lack of fruit, we pray for God to soften hearts. If we’re tempted to give up when no one pays attention, we pray for endurance and do it anyway. On the days when we’re exhausted from repeating the same truth to the same stubborn child, we remember that God’s words are living, active, and eternal.
We can’t control outcomes, we don’t get to decide our children’s faith. But as the redeemed of the Lord, we can celebrate Advent with joy and teach our children that Jesus came and he’s coming again. We can rejoice in the privilege of training and instructing them to know and love the Lord. Sorrow and sighing will flee. We’ll be with Jesus, crowned with unending joy.
May we press on in faithfulness until that day.