The Christmas season is almost over. Soon all that will be left are the memories. Today’s Old Testament reading has something to say about memories. The whole reading is Joshua 3:14-4:7.
This is the story of the Israelites crossing the Jordan and into the Promised Land. This was culmination of God’s promises to Abraham. This was the culmination of the Exodus and the journey through the Wilderness.
The feet of the priests carrying the ark touched the waters of the Jordan and the water stopped far upstream. The rest of the water continued down to the Dead Sea, leaving a dry river bed for the Israelites to cross over. There was no question from beginning to end that the journey had only been possible by the hand of God. The sea had parted for them to leave Egypt and the river parted for them to enter the Land of Promise.
After everyone had passed over, as the priests and the ark stood still in the dry river bed, Joshua called for a man from each tribe to go to where the priest stood and take a rock big enough to carry on his shoulders.
Joshua said to them: “Cross over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.”
And the children of Israel did so, just as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones from the midst of the Jordan, as the Lord had spoken to Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them to the place where they lodged, and laid them down there. Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood; and they are there to this day.
There are many lessons from this story, but here are just a couple that come to mind.
When we read the Old Testament we always look for Jesus. The Old Testament points forward. The death, resurrection and ascension of Christ was the great event that made it possible for the new Israel to enter into the Promised Land of the Kingdom of God. Just as all of the Israelites are represented in the memorial stones, all the Church is represented in the twelve Apostles. As the stones are turned into bread, Christ institutes the greatest memorial of all in the Eucharist.
Likewise, even today with a fractured Church, separated into this tribe and that, we all share in one common remembrance, because we share in one common redemption. It is the symbol by which we tell our children of the deliverance of God and of our entry into the true Promised Land.
Those twelve stones are representative of all of the stones it takes to make His Church:
Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:4-5
On a completely different level, memories are important. Most events in our lives really only have lasting value in the memories they create. Memories help form and shape who we are. The importance that God places on remembrance in both the Old and New Testaments should help us to realize that.
Christmas is a time when we can build those memories. With photos and ornaments and decorations and meals, we build our own stones of remembrance. We take the remembrance of Christ’s birth and make it part of the fabric of our lives. Hopefully, with our twelve-day remembrance of God’s faithfulness in sending His Son as Messiah and Savior, we teach our children to remember His faithfulness each of us in the daily mercies we have experienced throughout the year.
It is almost time to box up the ornaments and decorations for another eleven months and to take the experiences of this season and ponder them in our hearts, as we ponder the great mystery of the Incarnation and of God’s love for us.