Suddenly, opposite the lampstand,
the fingers of a human hand appeared,
writing on the plaster of the wall in the king's palace.
When the king saw the wrist and hand that wrote, his face blanched;
his thoughts terrified him, his hip joints shook,
and his knees knocked.
You've heard the expression, "the handwriting on the wall?" This is where it comes from, the Book of Daniel. People use the expression when they realize their best efforts must fail; there's no point in trying any longer. If they see the sign before anyone else they may be able to salvage their own investments while the rest collapse.
The end of today's scripture passage was lopped off; the thirtieth verse tells us, "That very night Belshazzar, the Chaldean king, was slain."
Reading further into the text we learn that the Lord of History revealed the future to the Jewish seer and advisor to the king. Daniel represents the inspired wisdom of God's people; they survived Belshazzar's fall as well as that of his successor, Darius. In fact, the story was written hundreds of years later, and that was thousands of years ago.
We've seen them come; we've seen them go. Kingdoms, empires, nations, cities: they enjoy their moment of glory; they suppose they must last forever; school children tire of hearing about them as they represent only the past.
Shelley's poem Ozymandias mocked the tyrants of the 19th century and the pretensions of 19th century cities.
We have celebrated Christ the King Sunday. With the First Sunday of Advent we are about to begin another annual cycle. Wisdom suggests that we ponder the brevity of our lives and the futility of our pretensions; we should consider our aspirations and ask if they are worthy of us. Do they represent eternity or only the present world?
Shelley's poem, fixed by rote in the memory of school children, stands a better chance of surviving the ages than much of our failing infrastructure; but it too will be long forgotten as only the Word of the Lord endures forever.
note: Chaldean is pronounced with a hard ch, as in Christmas.