A sandstone wall on the F3. (Photo: RMS)

It’s now almost two months since I arrived back in Australia. One thing I’ve continually been reminded of in this time is that it is people, more than places, that give me a sense of belonging. There have been lots of opportunities to share special moments with family, catch up with old friends, meet new babies and resume long-running conversations with close friends and mentors. These ‘people moments’ are easily the best part of being back home.

At the same time though, places can be important too. One such place for me is the small stretch of Parramatta River near my apartment, where I go to jog, walk and lap up the view on a shady park bench. There’s a lot to like about it – the smell of salt water mixed with mangroves, the gentle breezes, the acres of green parkland and the playful sea gulls. It’s a highlight of my neighbourhood and, after walking along the muddy, brown trickle of Santiago’s only river, the Mapocho, it seems even better.

This week I rediscovered another place that I truly appreciate: the F3 freeway. Yes, you read that correctly; one of my favourite places is a freeway. But in my defense, the F3 is not just any old freeway – it’s a beautiful one. Stretching from the northern tip of Sydney, along the central coast and up to Newcastle, it runs through several national parks and state forests offering plenty of standout features which just add to the joys of roaring along the open road.

First up are the rugged sandstone cuttings, blasted through with dynamite in the ’50s and ’60s, to make way for the new expressway. At various points through the Kuringa-Chase National Park,the ancient hills have been split open, forming gorgeous, man-made gorges with towering rock walls rising up on either side of the roadway. In Chile, there are scores of impressive hills and mountains, but the impossibly, long motorway that traces the country from north to south passes them by, sticking mostly to the flat plains. But on the F3 you’re driving through the hills, literally, and it’s exhilirating.

Second, is the beautiful descent to the Hawkesbury River from the south. As you wind your way down the mountain, speeding past the trucks in the left lane, pactches of blue keep popping into view, until eventually, you break free from the rocky outcrops and the thickset gums to see the river, spread out before you and shimmering in the sun. Once you’ve crossed the bridge, there’s a stunning climb, back up the hill, as the road continues pushing north towards Gosford.

But before you get there, there’s another attraction: the swooping Mooney Mooney Bridge with its iconic wind socks. Standing 75m above the creek of the same name, it is the highest road bridge in Australia and a worthy landmark in its own right.

There’s another thing I like about the F3 as well. The memories. Growing up, our parents used to regularly bundle us kids into the car and take us up north to visit the grandparents in Maitland. As we chugged along the freeway in the Kingswood or the Holden van, we’d listen to tapes, eat sensible portions of chips and lollies and play endless rounds of “I spy with my little eye…” and Taxo, Beepo Buggo. It formed an important backdrop in our lives and five years ago, I relived the memories with one brother and two sisters as we drove back for our grandfather’s funeral. Now, another set of grandparents live in Newcastle and we go back to the freeway to visit them. In a way, it has become a highway of our heritage.

As I drove back through the F3’s sandstone cuttings on two occasions last week – once for work and once for fun – I was reminded of the times my dad had used them as a sermon illustration when preaching on Isaiah 40. There, the great prophet speaks words of comfort to his countrymen, ahead of their exile to Babylon and all the darkness and soul-searching that would entail. Although the situation was going to be bleak, Isaiah looked ahead to when a voice would cry out in the desert, announcing the revelation of the glory of the LORD:

Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.

Kind of like a freeway blasted through a sandstone hill, just north of Sydney. And as I reflected on that passage, I was also reminded that Isaiah’s ancient prophecy didn’t end with the return of the Jews from Babylon under Cyrus the great. In Matthew 3, we learn that when Isaiah spoke of a voice, calling in the desert, he was referring to John the Baptist, preparing the way for Jesus, who is the revelation of God’s glory. He came as king, announcing that the kingdom of heaven is here, on earth, and inviting us to join in on the action.

So as I remember how good it is to be back home, reunited with friends, family and the F3, I also remember my king, the true source of comfort at home and abroad.