Earlier this week at a Bible study over at Cabin Creek Coffee, we were talking about Psalm 126. A song kept running through my head:
"Those were the days my friend,
We thought they'd never end,
We'd sing and dance forever and a day.
We'd live the life we choose;
We'd fight and never lose.
Those were the days, oh yes, those were the days.
La la la la ...."
The song recorded by Mary Hopkin in 1968 surprisingly rivaled "Hey Jude" by the Beatles for pop song of the year here in the U.S. It's actually an old Russian song credited to Gene Raskin who put English lyrics to the Russian romance tune first recorded in 1925.
The melody arrests your attention. So do the unusual instruments including balalaika, clarinet, hammered dulcimer, and tenor banjo. But it's the words that capture the romantic idealism of youth that resonates with those of us who have the majority of earthly life behind us.
"Once upon a time there was a tavern
Where we used to raise a glass or two.
Remember how we laughed away the hours
And dreamed of all the great things we would do."
Thoughts go back more than ever to days that were almost carefree. Life was an adventure lying in wait to happen. The world was ours to conquer and experience to the fullest. With almost reckless abandon we dared to dream big.
"Then the busy years went rushing by us.
We lost our starry notions on the way.
If by chance I'd see you in the tavern,
We'd smile at one another and we'd say ..."
Caught in a life of pressing demands and responsibilities, deadlines and requirements, things changed in the middle years. The idealism of youth is altered into a hard dose of life's realities. Sick kids. House repairs. A cranky boss. Care giving for aging parents.
"Just tonight I stood before the tavern;
Nothing seemed the way it used to be.
In the glass I saw a strange reflection,
Was that lonely woman really me?"
Then come the later years when the children are grown and gone. Perhaps our spouse is gone as well. Everything seems to be geared for the young except for antique stores that feature relics of nostalgia. The way life used to be becomes a favorite topic of conversation and what we dream of at night. Loneliness for past years and past friends make us yearn to go back in time.
This melancholy reflection on life composed in these lyrics has only one cure - life in Christ. in Psalm 126, the memory of those singing, laughter-filled days of the past becomes, not mere nostalgia, but the ground of a strong, solid, and sure hope for ever better days to come. Not just wishful pie-in-the-sky stuff, but a genuinely certain future based on the character of God and the completed work of His Son on behalf of sinners. He can be counted on to give us more wonderful days, even in the advanced aging years.
God shows us in Psalm 126 the tinny nature of the world's joy and affirms the solidity of God's joy. He tells us of the accelerating costs and diminishing returns of those who pursue pleasure as a path to joy. He introduces us to the way of discipleship which has consequences of pure joy. He relates the story of God's actions which put laughter into peoples' mouths and shouts of triumph on their tongues. He shares His promises with His wandering, weeping children until they arrive at home exuberant. He declares the existence of a people who, along with whatever else is happening, are able to say, "We are glad."
In Christ alone can we know the indescribable, lasting joy that endures in every chapter of life beyond tavern glasses and unfulfilled dreams.