The story is about three brothers who, travelling together, reach a treacherous river. Being wizards, they make a magical bridge over the river. Halfway across the bridge, they meet Death who is angry for losing three potential victims of the river. He pretends to be impressed by them and grants each a wish as a reward. The eldest brother asks for an unbeatable wand which will always grant him victory, so Death carves the Elder Wand from a nearby tree.
The middle brother asks for the ability to call back the dead because the women he loved is dead, so Death gives him a stone from the river called the Resurrection Stone. The youngest and smartest brother doesn’t trust Death and asks for something that could hide him from the eyes of Death himself, so Death reluctantly gives him his Cloak of Invisibility. Afterwards, the brothers go their separate ways.
The eldest brother, bragging about his powerful wand, is robbed of it by a man and murdered while he is asleep. The middle brother uses his ability to bring back the woman he loved, who died before he could marry her. However, she is not fully alive and is full of sorrow. He kills himself to join her. So death takes the first two brothers for his own. As for the youngest brother, Death never manages to find him, as he stays hidden under his Cloak. Many years later, the brother removes his cloak and gives it to his son. Pleased with his achievements, he greets Death as an old friend and chooses to leave with him as equals.
When a young couple welcomes a baby into their lives, their thoughts are on the future, the hopes and dreams they have for their newborn and for their new family. Seldom are they expecting that they will watch their child die. In truth, that’s a disruption of the norm. It’s not supposed to be that way. Yet Mary, a new mother, is confronted in the temple by the words of Simeon, who tells her that a sword will pierce her. She will experience the most painful aspect of parenting that any of us could imagine.
At the same time, Jesus’ death will be the great gift to the world for all time. Because he goes willingly to death – because he greets it as an old friend – he takes away the power of death for you and for me and for all who believe.
If we believe what the world tells us, you and I might have every reason to fear death because we will see life as a competition, as the first of the three brothers does. So many of us behave that way: the world tells us to strive for power, ambition, authority, and that everyone else is a competitor. Resources are limited, so we must acquire all we can and devote our energy to hanging on to what we have. But if we choose to live that way, then you and I have become slaves to fear, always fending off the possibility that someone, somewhere, is more powerful and that this more powerful being will ultimately defeat us. To live afraid, like the older brother, is no life at all.
And so some of us, instead, look to the past, idealizing it and romanticizing it, like the middle brother. But when you and I insist on dragging along the burdens of things that are over and done with, replaying failed relationships and dwelling on disappointments, we drift through our days like a spirit unhappily summoned back to the land of the living. We are so bogged down by what might have been that we fail to value the great gift of the present, of each day that comes to us full of very real possibilities.
In a sense, when you and I are weighed down by the past, we are like the middle brother. To carry our regrets with us instead of learning from them and moving on is to drain away the life that is in front of us, the reality of here and now, the knowledge that we are given, every twenty-four hours, a whole new day full of possibilities.
Psychologists have found that in many cases, people with hoarding disorder are triggered by past trauma. Television programs show people who are unable to use their bathrooms, kitchens, living rooms or bedrooms because the rooms are piled high with belongings. In some cases, the people cannot even bring themselves to throw away takeout containers that once held food. In nearly every case, they say that this behavior began at a point of trauma in the past that the victim cannot let go of, until it has become an unmanageable problem.
What are you and I hanging on to that so fills our thoughts and our actions that we are not fully valuing the present moment? What regrets, failures, and incompletions are we hauling around with us? What burdens do we need to set down so that our hearts and minds are free to appreciate the life that we have right now?
It is the youngest of the three brothers who has the healthiest relationship with death. Using the invisibility cloak, he is free to live out his life without the paralyzing fear of comparing himself to others and without the burden of regrets and failures that cannot be undone. Only when he has lived a full life does he remove the cloak and greet Death as an old and welcomed friend.
Simeon has been waiting many long years to see the promised Messiah. As do so many others who encounter Jesus, the aged and faithful Simeon recognizes immediately that here is the promised one. And the prophecy that he gives to Mary sounds starkly final. But Mary has been equipped with all that she needs to be the Mother of God. She knows that she will have to watch her son die. But she knows also that his death will mean liberation and life for all who follow him.
God sends himself into the world in the form of this baby Jesus with a message and an invitation. The message is that neither grasping for power nor wrestling with regret is what God intends when He invites us to follow in the Jesus way. His coming into the world, his willingness to greet death on its own terms and to remove its sting, brings you and me to the life that God intends for each of us.