The main reason why I finally broke down and got a smart phone was that I wanted to have access to GPS. The hand-me-down Garmin I was using was cumbersome and failing. I wanted to be able to get help to go where I wanted to go. I already had a nice camera. I could text just fine on my flip phone. But GPS, guidance, that I wanted.
Guidance is really important to us humans. I am not exactly sure why that is. I am pretty sure it is related to our innate need for safety. But, we want to know what is going to happen. We want to know that we are making the best choices. We aren’t very settled with acceptance of what is. I am sure some of this is comes from centuries ago, when food didn’t last in the frig or the freezer. Winter didn’t have any vegetables from the southern hemisphere. And being clothed meant killing an animal and tanning skins or tedious weaving of wool and flax. I am reading a story about the 12th century, and there is an early severe winter. People simply do not have the resources to survive. And it isn’t because of not sharing, there just is not enough supply to feed all the people.
Wanting to know what was going to happen was about survival. It was a basic human/animal instinct – to figure out how to survive in a harsh world. These are the kinds of animal instincts which are not easily overcome in the human psyche.
Guidance is one of our great human needs. There are so many ways today to find guidance. Get a life coach. Take a plethora of skill tests and personality tests which will tell you what you are made for. Check out the local palm reader, or tarot card reader. I am not sure ouija boards are still in vogue, but it was a popular slumber party activity in the middle of the night when I was a kid. The Jewish people had their numerology and casting of lots, while certain other forms of discernment were forbidden. Even the priests had the Urim and Thumin to toss like dice to determine what God’s will was.
One thing, which we often overlook is that the Magi were foreigners. In fact, they were most likely a race of people who the Jews thought of as enemies. They were at home in the area of modern Iran or Iraq, where the Babylonians had held the Jewish people captive. Because it was a land where the Jews lived for a couple of generations, and where many put down roots and stayed when some of the Jews returned to Palestine – because of the Jewish settlement in “the East,” their ways and their prophecies were not unknown to those who cared to learn.
Most likely the magi were not only foreigners, representatives of an oppressor nation, but they were also of another religion – probably Zoroastrianism. “Magi” was what priests of Zoroaster were called.
Furthermore, we have no idea how many Magi were in the party. We have no idea if they were all male. Certainly the traveling party would have included both men and women. The Bible just does not tell us much about the wise ones. It tells us only what we need to know: that they were from the East, an oppressor nation; that they were astrologer/astronomers; that they knew something of the Jewish prophecies; and that they honored the leaders of neighboring nations.
Just this week, in Richard Rohr’s newsletter, Brian McClaren has given voice to what he sees as a new Christianity which is emerging: “This …Christianity …will be decentralized and diverse rather than centralized and uniform.” 
This is not new, though. The Magi, coming to greet the baby Jesus, settled that long ago. All people would come together around this child’s leadership and teaching. It was true throughout Jesus’ life, that people from all races and religions came to honor him and seek his teaching and power.
So one of the things the Magi teach us, from the very beginning of Jesus’ life story, is that he doesn’t just belong to Christians. His teaching will cross boundaries and many peoples and religions will find in Jesus a like soul.
In many ways the Magi are some amazing models for us, not just about inclusion and diversity, but also about guidance. It seems to me that these wise ones had learned a thing or two. Even the chorus of our hymn captures their desire for guidance from the star.
Star of Wonder, Star of Night,
Star with Royal Beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to Thy perfect Light.
What do we learn about guidance from this story?
1. Guidance is all around us. It is built into the universe. The Magi saw it in the stars. Scientists have learned to hear it in the earth and predict volcano eruptions and earthquakes. Foresters can tell us what is going to happen to a forest just by walking through and listening, watching for what it is saying. In other words, guidance is all around us. It comes down to noticing, listening, paying attention. Like Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem:
“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only one who sees takes off their shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.” 
2. Guidance is signaled by change, things happening out of the ordinary. The magi knew something had happened when they saw a star appear. Something had changed. And it had changed the galaxy, the universe. It was a big deal. When something changes in our lives, do we listen?
When I tore my ACL on my sabbatical, it changed everything. Did I listen? Not very well at first. But somehow I learned eventually, that I could be as obsessive about beauty as I was about my work for the church. I am still working on the guidance from that lesson.
Have you had sudden or surprising changes, in your life? What are they saying to you? Do you ask others for counsel? Are you determined to pay attention. These wise ones talked to each other, confirmed what they sensed with each other. They knew they had received guidance.
3. Guidance is ordinary and everyday. It takes long slow observation. It was the daily, religious practice of the magi to watch the stars, to record their observations, and discuss them with each other. There would be no other way to notice a new star. They knew their universe and knew every time it shifted.
Guidance comes as we pay attention to everyday life. As we observe its patterns we hear its teaching. It is a discipline. Many people use the practice of journaling to help them observe their lives. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. It is simply taking the time, each and every day to observe what life taught me today. If you are looking for guidance, I would suggest this method first. It is what got the wise ones on the right road. It can do it for you too.
4. Guidance can also be supernatural, sudden and jolting. Dreams are often involved. What we know from psychology is that dreams are the stories of the subconscious. In dreams we revisit what we may not have even noticed in our ordinary life. If it is important enough to come up in a dream, then pay attention. The Magi did. They must have been suspicious in a subconscious way about Herod. He had a terrible, cruel reputation, after all. So when their dreams warned them not to return to Herod, they took it as guidance. The Bible doesn’t even say the dream came from God or an angel like it does for Joseph. They were simply warned in a dream. And they knew it was true when they considered all they had observed.
5. One more thing we can learn from the Magi: Guidance requires following. If we receive guidance, follow it. I wonder if we become deaf to guidance if we never follow it? It can take a great deal of courage. I am sure it did take courage for these Magi to leave their homeland and travel to the realm of a very controlling nation, where they had no say, no power. Yet they went. I wonder how many other star-gazers saw the new star and did nothing. Did their lives change? Are they remembered forever? No.
To make a new path in this world, to cut a new road for the Kingdom of God, requires following the guidance. It won’t be easy. Because a new kind of life, a new kind of world is hard to forge. Ask any revolutionary. Look at the history of the wars of the world. Just look at the life of Jesus. To make a new world cost him everything. But he never gave up on love.
Love is the north star of divine guidance. We would do well if our only question was: What is the loving thing to do? It is why we come to this table again and again. It is a reminder of our center, the love of God for us demonstrated by Jesus.
 “Diverse Discipleship,” Thursday, January 2, 2020, Center for Action and Contemplation, Brian McLaren.
 Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Aurora Leigh, Book 7,” 1857.